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Searchers comb ruins of Monterrey casino where 52 died in fire

The day after a Monterrey casino is set afire by three carloads of gunmen, President Felipe Calderon decries the attack by 'true terrorists' in the once-tranquil city in northern Mexico.

August 27, 2011|By Ken Ellingwood and Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times

Calderon traveled to Monterrey with his wife and several Cabinet ministers. They laid a huge green wreath at the site of the charred casino, the letters "Bingo" and "Sports Book" on its broad red facade contorted by heat.

President Obama also condemned the "barbaric and reprehensible" attack.

Much of northeastern Mexico has been besieged for a year and a half by fighting between the Gulf cartel and former allies known as the Zetas.

The bloodshed has been especially shocking in Monterrey.

Hector Esquivel, 35, a valet parking attendant at the Casino Royale, had finished work half an hour before Thursday's attack. He got a job at the casino after the bar where he had been working received extortion threats.

"I came over here thinking it would be more calm, with the older people," he said. "It turned out worse. This is the dark side of Monterrey."

The Times last year reported on the disintegration of Monterrey and quoted a leading businessman, Gilberto Marcos, who noted that if Monterrey is lost, so is all Mexico. There was hope at the time that a robust business elite would be able to fight back against encroaching drug trafficking networks.

"It's gotten worse," Marcos said Friday. "There are businessmen in cahoots with corrupt politicians, and the people are being terrorized. The state is very weak, and that's how the criminals see it.

"We are in war."

Times staff writers Ellingwood reported from Monterrey and Wilkinson from Mexico City. Cecilia Sanchez of The Times' Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.

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