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Protesters choke Mexico's capital after violence

Written by: Staff

MEXICO CITY, May 12 (Reuters) Hundreds of demonstrators blocked highways leading into Mexico's capital to protest rights abuses by police against leftists in a rebellious nearby town and to demand the release of prisoners.

The protesters, many of them students, stopped long lines of traffic on several major highways leading into Mexico City yesterday in a protest backed by Subcomandante Marcos, the masked leader of Zapatista rebels in southern Mexico.

The demonstrations followed violence last week when thousands of police in riot gear swarmed the town of San Salvador Atenco, which for years had been under a form of autonomous self-rule.

Last week's brutal clashes between local activists and police exploded after police tried to evict unlicensed flower sellers from a market. Protesters threw Molotov cocktails at police and kidnapped several officers. The police responded by arresting around 200 people, many of whom were beaten up.

A 14-year-old boy was shot dead in the violence, and Mexico's human rights watchdog is looking into allegations that police sexually assaulted women they had arrested.

Yesterday's protests, dozens of Mexico City university students, some of them were masked, blocked a freeway and threw stones at cops before being driven back, radio reports said.

On other highways leading into the capital, one of the world's largest cities, police officials negotiated with students to open up individual lanes to allow a trickle of traffic and avoid tougher measures.

Marcos led a brief indigenous uprising in the state of Chiapas in 1994 and had visited San Salvador Atenco prior to the clashes. He has pledged he will stay in the Mexico City area until all of some 200 arrested protesters are set free.

State authorities said on Wednesday they would release more than 100 of those arrested. Twenty-eight others, however, have been charged with kidnapping or other crimes.

Marcos, an icon among anti-globilization activists, has launched a grass-roots tour across Mexico to build opposition against the main political parties before the July 2 election.

Normally unwilling to cooperate with big media groups, Marcos has changed strategy this week to draw more attention to his cause by giving studio interviews to major television networks, sporting his trademark ski mask, radio headset and combat fatigues.


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