June 30, 2006

Ex-Mexican president ordered arrested in massacre

(Recasts, adds background

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A judge ordered the arrest on
Friday of former Mexican President Luis Echeverria for a 1968
student massacre in a surprise move just two days before
crucial elections.

The arrest order for Echeverria, 84, came after two failed
attempts in recent years to charge him with genocide. It is a
breakthrough in outgoing President Vicente Fox's halting drive
to punish those responsible for past government brutality
before he leaves office in December.

Echeverria is expected to be held under house arrest due to
his age and health concerns, defense attorney Juan Velasquez
said after the judge's ruling. Echeverria was president from
1970 to 1976, at the height of a so-called dirty war against

He was interior minister in charge of national security
when government troops stormed a student rally in Mexico City
on October 2, 1968, days before the opening of the Olympics

Voters go to the polls on Sunday in the first presidential
election since 2000, when Fox ousted the Institutional
Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ruled Mexico for seven
decades, at times using repression to squash dissent.

It was not immediately clear what impact the arrest order
could have on Sunday's vote, but it was unlikely to help PRI
candidate Roberto Madrazo. He is running in third place in
opinion polls and his party has repeatedly criticized the
investigation into past rights abuses.

Officials said around 30 people died in what came to be
known as the Tlatelolco massacre. But witnesses and rights
activists put the death toll as high as 300. Echeverria has
denied responsibility for the blood bath.