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Protest over 43 missing Mexicans erupts in violence

MEXICO CITY: A peaceful rally over the presumed massacre of 43 Mexican students ended with violence in the capital Monday, as the president’s popularity sank to new lows on his second anniversary.

Thousands marched along Mexico City’s main boulevard, chanting for President Enrique Pena Nieto to resign and waving blackened flags of the country in anger over the case of the missing students.

They echoed “you are not alone” to parents of the missing who joined the rally at the Angel of Independence Monument.

“Pena Nieto must resign,” Clemente Rodriguez, father of missing student Cristian, told the crowd after two leading newspapers showed the embattled president’s approval rating dropping to around 40 percent.

As night fell, a small group of masked protesters armed with bats threw firebombs at banks and broke the windows of several shops along the touristic Reforma Boulevard.

Hundreds of riot police protecting the Senate used fire extinguishers to repel the protesters and detained at least four, an AFP journalist said.

Pena Nieto, who took office on December 1, 2012, has faced a wave of protests that have ended in sporadic acts of violence since the students vanished two months ago.

Oil facilities blocked 

Thousands more protested in the southern state of Guerrero, where a drug gang has confessed to killing the teachers’ college students after local police handed them over in September.

A group of protesters ransacked the Guerrero state prosecutor’s office in the regional capital, Chilpancingo, and set five vehicles on fire, including two police cruisers.

Families refuse to believe the 43 young men are dead and demand they be found alive. Prosecutors have stopped short of declaring them dead, saying they await DNA tests on charred remains sent to an Austrian university.

Teachers and students led another protest in the neighboring state of Oaxaca, where some 1,500 people blocked the local airport for four hours, causing two flight cancellations.

Hundreds more blocked access to a refinery as well as a storage facility of state oil company Pemex for several hours in Oaxaca, a teachers union spokesman said.

As Mexicans protested again, a poll published by El Universal newspaper showed just 41 percent approve of his performance, while the daily Reforma found 39 percent were satisfied.

It was the worst approval rating for a president since Ernesto Zedillo in the mid-1990s, underscoring the magnitude of the crisis Pena Nieto is facing.

President wants police overhaul 

Pena Nieto announced that he had sent constitutional reforms to Congress aimed at disbanding the country’s notoriously corrupt municipal police forces to allow the federal government to take over gang-infiltrated towns.

The president unveiled the plan last week, two months after the students were attacked by police in the city of Iguala, allegedly under the mayor’s orders.

The case has put a spotlight on Mexico’s struggle to end corruption and impunity amid a drug war that has left 100,000 people dead or missing since 2006.

“What happened in Iguala marks a before and an after,” Pena Nieto said Monday during a visit to the impoverished southern state of Chiapas.

“It showed the institutional weakness to face organized crime, which today have more numbers, weapons and power than in the past,” he said.

His plan, however, has drawn skepticism from human rights groups and analysts who say it is not enough to weed out corruption and abuses across the country. (AFP)

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