August 10, 2006

Four die in Mexico tourist town teacher conflict

OAXACA, Mexico (Reuters) - Gunmen fired on protesters and killed four people in just over 24 hours as a political crisis reached boiling point in the folklore rich state of Oaxaca, one of Mexico's main tourism centers.

Unknown gunmen killed a man when they fired on striking teachers marching in the Oaxaca's colonial capital city on Thursday, a Reuters reporter at the scene said.

The attackers opened fire as the teachers marched through the city streets, killing the husband of a teacher and injuring two others. The assailants took refuge in a house, which protesters torched. It is not known if thethey escaped.

Enraged teachers also set fire to cars outside a clinic where the body of the victim was taken.

On Wednesday, armed assailants ambushed a group of Triqui Indians driving to Oaxaca to take part in protests supporting the striking teachers. Three were killed in the attack, government sources said.

The Triqui are one of many indigenous groups that live mainly in poverty in the highlands of Oaxaca.

Some 40,000 teachers have been on strike in Oaxaca for weeks. The teachers, who want pay rises, are also demanding the resignation of state Gov. Ulises Ruiz. Critics say he has polarized the state, whose indigenous cultures, colonial cities and Pacific beaches are a major draw for tourists.

Human rights groups, land activists and journalists say Ruiz has been heavy handed, riding rough-shod over his critics and using riot police to resolve conflicts. On Wednesday, armed individuals broke into the offices of a newspaper critical of Ruiz and stole computer equipment and money.

Last month, Oaxaca's annual Guelaguetza fiesta, a frenzy of music, food and dancing, was canceled when protesters backing the strike set fire to the festival stage and barricaded tourists into their hotels.

The flocks of travelers who come to Oaxaca city to drink the region's fiery Mezcal liquor and soak up the city's lively art scene have dwindled in recent months.

On Thursday, Oaxacan painter Francisco Toledo, Mexico's most influential living artist, said he was going to close cultural spaces in the city because of vandalism worries.