Wedding shooting ends crime-ridden year in Mexico

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MEXICO CITY, Jan 1 (Reuters) - Masked gunmen burst into a wedding in southern Mexico late on Saturday and shot dead seven guests in an apparent settling of scores as a year riddled by gangland-style murders drew to an end.

Officials in the crime-ridden Pacific Coast state of Guerrero reported the shooting yesterday as police elsewhere in Mexico said they found five other dead bodies bearing the hallmarks of crime gang killings.

Some 2,000 people have died this year in Mexico in an increasingly brutal war between rival drug cartels.

Local police spokesman Noe Morales said four men and three women died when unidentified gunmen sprayed bullets into a wedding party in the village of Zacualpan, Guerrero state. He said the gunmen escaped and their motive was unknown.

Separately, police in the neighboring state of Michoacan, where President Felipe Calderon is cracking down on drug gangs, dug up the bodies of two men in their early 30s who had been killed and dumped in shallow graves at a farm up to four weeks earlier.

The men's feet and hands were bound and their mouths taped over. One wore a face-covering hood and had tape over his eyes.

''The attorney general's office is working out whether it's linked to drug trafficking,'' said Magdalena Guzman, spokeswoman for the state prosecutor.

Also yesterday, residents in the impoverished town of Ecatepec, just north of Mexico City, led police to an abandoned car containing the bodies of three men, about 30 years of age, local media reported.

Once limited mainly to northern border cities, violence surged and spread south after former president Vicente Fox launched a crackdown on drug gangs in early 2005, intensifying the turf war between the Gulf Cartel from northeastern Mexico and smugglers from Sinaloa and Tijuana in the northwest.

Days after he was sworn in on December 1, Calderon sent 7,000 soldiers and police to his home state of Michoacan, which is overrun by gangs jostling for lucrative routes to smuggle cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamines to the United States.

Calderon also announced the creation of an elite force made up of thousands of soldiers and federal police to chase down drug cartels, kidnappers and other organized crime.

Mexico's municipal and state police, poorly paid and badly equipped, are widely perceived as inept and highly corrupt.

Reuters DH VP0455

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