Friday, November 03, 2006

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PFP attack Benito Juarez Autonomous University?

I've been getting conflicting reports on this... mostly from people who don't have a clue, or who have an obvious agenda -- Narco News and Mark in Mexico (yeah, I'm more sympathetic to Narco News, but that doesn't mean I accept their reports on face value). Just a word of explanation. AUTONOMOUS Universities are just that -- autonomous. Under the constitution, the universities MUST receive funding (there's a percentage level in the national budget which is automatically reserved to the Universities) and they are self-governing entities. Only the Rector can approve of other governmental agencies coming onto his (or her) turf. There have been clashes before, when police have entered universities (notably in 1980, when the police did a room to room sweep at UNAM) and they've usually ended badly for the Government. Given their shameful role in 1968-72, the Mexican Army itself does not want to be involved in civil conflicts, thus the presence of the PFP. They are not the old "Federales" (though a lot of U.S. reporters don't understand that -- the Federales were disbanded some years ago). These are paramilitary troops... their officers are recruited not from police academies, but from the military schools. They generally have a reputation for professionalism. They're bad-asses, but not necessarily bad guys. My sense is that their officers, like other military officers, are not keen to take sides in political issues. My sense is they want to "bottle up" the APPO and striking students at the University, rather than lay seige to the campus. A report this morning from Oaxaca has the Catholic Church offering to host negotiations, and the Supreme Court is considering the call from both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate for Governor Ruiz to resign. I've quoted, in its entirety, a report from the English-language Mexico City Herald.

By John Gibler/Special to The Herald Mexico El Universal Viernes 03 de noviembre de 2006 OAXACA CITY - The disparities were enormous. At 10 a.m., several hundred fully equipped riot and special operations officers from the Federal Preventative Police (PFP) supported by armored riot tanks and military helicopters flying overhead stood face-to-face with a small crowd of university students and local residents with nothing in their hands. But from this disparity grew a pitched battle that lasted over six hours, left dozens injured, and ended with the PFP in retreat and the streets filled with thousands of protesters. The PFP reported 10 of their officers were injured and at least three journalists suffered injuries, including EL UNIVERSAL photographer David Jaramillo. The Oaxaca People´s Assembly (APPO), the grassroots organization leading the protests the past four months, said afterward that 200 protesters were treated for injuries by university medical personnel. After the initial skirmish at 8 a.m., the tension rose two hours later as more students climbed over the walls surrounding the Autonomous University of Oaxaca to join the ranks of those shouting at the police, bringing with them rocks, Molotov cocktails, and homemade bottle rocket launchers. On both sides of the university grounds, PFP officers shut off roads to clear away barricades, which they said was their sole objective. "This is the last intersection we need to recover," said the coordinator of the federal support troops, who declined to give his name. Students burned tires, carried the scorched remains of cars, fallen telephone poles and piles of trash to build makeshift barricades in front of the police lines. The police commander insisted the PFP did not plan to confront the protesters or enter the campus. "The university is occupied by students," he said. "They are in their house, and we did not come to kick them out." But 200 yards away, police fired tear gas into the campus grounds and the students responded with a furious volley of rocks and Molotov cocktails. The line of about 50 riot police attempted to advance on the protesters, firing tear gas and returning the rocks thrown at them. The PFP later issued a news release insisting the conflict began after the university radio station - controlled by APPO - announced that the authorities were trying to enter the campus and people flocked to the area and attacked the troops. Along the avenue, opposite the campus, a mid-day soccer game in progress came to a grinding halt, but the players paused only for a moment before they scurried to find rocks and join the protesters in throwing them at the police from the field. Men and women pushed shopping carts filled with rocks up toward the front line. They shouted to those coming from surrounding streets to bring rocks. An elderly woman advanced into the clouds of tear gas offering water that had been blessed by a local priest to the students. The police were forced back, but only to open the way for a coordinated attack by riot tanks and their water cannons - with water laced with pepper spray. Inside the university grounds, protesters coordinated brigades to rush Coca-Cola and vinegar, their remedy for the immediate burn of tear gas, out to the protesters. Announcers inside the university radio station called for supporters to bring food, water, and Coke to the university. The battle then turned into chaos. The PFP drove their tanks up and down to disperse the crowd; three military helicopters flew overhead firing tear gas grenades. The protesters rushed the police and the tanks with thick volleys of rocks and then ran back to take cover and wash their burning faces in Coke. By late afternoon hundreds more had joined the protesters, pushing the police back from the university, capturing a riot tank and setting it aflame. Two helicopters flew over, dropping tear gas grenades, but too late: at 3 p.m. the PFP were in full retreat. Late Thursday night, APPO spokesman Florentino López said 55 protesters had been detained by the PFP. "Since the authorities have routinely tortured our supporters when detained, we now declare that there are no longer conditions to continue entertaining dialogue with the federal government," he said. "However, we would like to make a direct call to President Fox to sit in personally on our dialogue with the Interior Secretariat" and this might convince APPO to return to the negotiating table, he said. López also said the protesters had rebuilt several more barricades to replace the three that had been dismantled by the PFP during Thursday´s operation.


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