May 22, 2006

Mexico rights watchdog finds brutal police tactics

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican police brutally put down
riots in a rebellious town outside Mexico City this month and
sexually abused some two dozen women in the operation, a rights
watchdog said on Monday.

In a preliminary report, the National Human Rights
Commission, an autonomous government body, said it found
evidence that federal and state police used excessive force
against hundreds of protesters when riots erupted in San
Salvador de Atenco in early May.

More than 200 protesters were arrested, but criminal
investigations are continuing and no officers have been
charged. The commission looked into 211 cases and found
evidence of rights abuses.

A 14-year-old boy was shot dead in the violence.
Authorities are investigating whether the bullet was fired by
police or protesters, and the rights commission did not issue
an opinion. It still plans to make a final report.

"Yes, there were rights violations. This is impossible to
deny," rights ombudsman Jose Luis Soberanes told a news

Soberanes, like other Mexican and international rights
leaders such as Human Rights Watch, said protesters broke the
law in attacking police officers, but the authorities responded
by using illegal force.

The commission said it found evidence that 23 women,
including four foreigners, were sexually abused, subjected to
sexual touching and possibly forced to have oral sex with
police officers, said Susana Thalia Pedroza, a rights monitor
for the commission.

State prosecutors are investigating the sex abuse

The clashes raised tension ahead of the July 2 presidential
election, with periodic protests in the capital over the
government's brutal response. The candidates have accused one
another of exploiting the episode.

The violence exploded after police tried to evict
unlicensed flower sellers from a market in a town that has seen
unrest in the past and has for years resisted government

Protesters threw Molotov cocktails at police and kidnapped
several officers. The police responded by arresting 200 people,
many of whom were beaten.