July 1, 2006

Ex-Mexican president under house arrest in massacre

By Lorraine Orlandi

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Former Mexican President Luis
Echeverria was under house arrest for a 1968 student massacre
and will soon make an initial statement to the courts, his
lawyer said on Saturday.

Two days before the country's presidential election, an
appeals court said on Friday it had enough evidence to support
a charge of genocide against Echeverria and ordered the former
leader's arrest and trial.

Echeverria's lawyer, Juan Velasquez, told Reuters his
client was served with the arrest order late on Friday and that
a judge would visit Echeverria's home on Saturday or Monday to
take his first statements.

The former president has denied any wrongdoing and his
lawyer Velasquez said the charges are unfounded. He predicted
his 84-year-old client would be exonerated quickly. "I think
this could be over in around 10 days," he said.

Echeverria, president from 1970 to 1976 at the height of a
so-called dirty war against leftists, was expected to be held
under house arrest due to his age and health concerns.

He was interior minister in charge of national security
when government troops stormed a student rally in the capital
on October 2, 1968, days before the opening of the Mexico City
Olympics in a tragedy that remains an open wound for many.

Officials said about 30 people were killed in what came to
be known as the Tlatelolco massacre. But witnesses and rights
activists put the death toll as high as 300.

The arrest, after two failed attempts to charge Echeverria
with genocide, is a breakthrough in outgoing President Vicente
Fox's halting drive to punish those responsible for past
government brutality. Fox leaves office in December.

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 crush dissent.

It was not clear what impact, if any, the arrest order
could have on the vote, which is seen as a test of Mexico's
young democracy after a history of authoritarian and often
corrupt presidents.