Mexican police charge into riot-plagued city to end chaos

OAXACA, Mexico – Federal police with assault rifles and riot-shields advanced into Oaxaca yesterday, bypassing or extinguishing barricades of burning tires and tree trunks in this normally picturesque tourist destination wracked by five months of protests and violence.

Officers in bulky black helmets lined a highway just shy of a sign reading “Welcome to Oaxaca” and used fire extinguishers to douse flames at a roadblock abandoned by retreating demonstrators.

Flanked by armored vehicles, water-cannon and bulldozers and with helicopters roaring overhead, they faced a knot of protesters who yelled insults and readied piles of stones to hurl. Some protesters used syringes to pierce their arms and legs, then paint signs decrying the police in blood.

In other parts of the city, columns of police climbed over burned-out cars and moved past hijacked tractor-trailers, buses and other debris used to block streets, marching toward downtown. Instead of offering resistance, many protesters retreated, pledging a massive defensive in the city center.

As police marched by, some residents emerged from their homes cheering and waving white flags.

What began in late May as a teacher’s strike in this colonial southern Mexican city spiraled into chaos as anarchists, students and Indian groups seized the central plaza and barricaded streets throughout the city to demand the ouster of Oaxaca state Gov. Ulises Ruiz. Police and state forces – often in plainclothes – have shot at protesters, setting off clashes in which at least eight people have died.

President Vicente Fox, who leaves office Dec. 1, resisted repeated calls to send federal forces to Oaxaca until Saturday, a day after gunfire killed a U.S. activist-journalist and two residents.