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Police actions questioned after Mexican inauguration protests

December 05, 2012|By Daniel Hernandez
  • Protesters in Mexico City on Monday demand the release of demonstrators who were detained during the presidential inauguration last week.
Protesters in Mexico City on Monday demand the release of demonstrators… (Alfredo Estrella / AFP/Getty…)

MEXICO CITY -- Questions are dogging police this week after nearly 100 people were detained and at least 100 others injured -- two seriously -- during hours of raucous demonstrations in central Mexico City as Enrique Peña Nieto was sworn in as president of Mexico

In scenes captured on video or transmitted live via Internet streams, demonstrators with their faces covered clashed Saturday with federal police officers outside the San Lazaro legislative chamber as Peña Nieto took the presidential oath of office. Later, more clashes erupted around the Palace of Fine Arts downtown between demonstrators and local police.

From there, masked "anarchists" rampaged through the central city, vandalizing hotels, restaurants and banks. The attacks caused more than $1.7 million in damage, authorities said.

"This was an attack on the city," Mayor Marcelo Ebrard said of the protesters who damaged businesses. "They had nothing to do with the day's events."

Ebrard and Mexico City Atty. Gen. Jesus Rodriguez said at police headquarters that at least three anarchist groups had planned the attacks on businesses "for weeks."

Two men were still hospitalized Tuesday, one critically, after being hit during the protests by what activists claim were police projectiles.

Juan Francisco Kuy Kendall, a 67-year-old theater director, was in a coma after he was hit in the head with a projectile outside San Lazaro during Saturday's confrontations, reports said. Further details about his condition were not known.

University student Uriel Sandoval Diaz, 22, was also struck with a projectile at San Lazaro and may lose sight in his right eye, doctors said.

Activists and rights groups are now raising questions about the police operations, claiming that dozens of people were arrested without cause.

YouTube videos show what are described as arbitrary detentions in the historic center of Mexico City. Municipal police are seen rounding up a man who was walking near a taco stand and another man in a suit.

The rights group Reporters Without Borders is calling for the release of two Romanian freelance journalists who were detained while covering the demonstrations.

At least seven Mexican journalists suffered injuries or some form of aggression while covering the street protests, the free speech group Articulo 19 said in a statement.

The Mexico chapter of Amnesty International also released a statement urging authorities to respect the rights of those detained.

A spokesman for Mexico City's police declined to answer specific questions about the protests or discuss Saturday's operation.

A spokesman for the federal police did not return calls.

On Monday, Manuel Mondragon y Kalb, who until recently was chief of police in Mexico City and joined the Peña Nieto government as an operational chief at the federal level, said the clashes were "totally directed" by several anarchists groups.

He said 10 or 12 federal officers were injured Saturday.

The confrontations between police and a variety of protesting groups -- including teachers, students and others -- appeared to set a troubling tone for future relations between leftist organizations in Mexico and the first presidency under the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, since  2000.

"They showed from day one that PRI equals violence," said the #YoSoy132 student movement in an "international statement." 

As early as 7:30 a.m. Saturday, protesters made the first of several attempts to storm the San Lazaro chamber, but they were repelled by federal officers using tear gas and high-pressure water, videos show.

Afterward, clashes erupted at various sites near the National Palace, where Peña Nieto gave the first speech of his government before foreign dignitaries, including U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and the vice president of China.

Similar but smaller demonstrations were also held in other cities in Mexico. In Guadalajara, protesters gathered outside the annual International Book Fair to denounce the ascent of Peña Nieto to the presidency. Police arrested 27 people there; they were freed Monday night after paying fines, reports said.

On Monday, more than 2,000 people marched through central Mexico City calling for the release of more than 60 "political prisoners" who remain in custody and are now facing vandalism charges.

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Cecilia Sanchez in The Times' Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.

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