Mexican senate dashes Oaxaca peace hopes

Mexico’s Senate decided on Thursday that there was no reason to oust Oaxaca’s embattled state government, eliminating the last legal recourse for thousands of protesters who have seized the state’s capital to demand the resignation of the governor, Ulises Ruiz. Leaders of the revolt in the southern state had earlier vowed to step up resistance.

By a 74-31 vote, the 125-seat Senate found that the state government had not ceased to function, even though officials have been essentially chased out of Oaxaca City for the past five months by a coalition of leftists and striking teachers.

Senators from Mr Ruiz’s Institutional Revolutionary party, or PRI, and those from the conservative Nat­ional Action party (PAN) of President Vicente Fox supported the resolution.

The vote left the conflict at an impasse: the protesters had previously vowed not to consider any other offers from government negotiators, including possible wage rises for teachers and federal control of local police, until Mr Ruiz left office.

Passions were inflamed on Wednesday when Pánfilo Hernández, a teacher, was killed in a drive-by shooting – the second murder of a supporter of the revolt within a week.

The revolt began with a strike by teachers for better pay and conditions. The strike quickly took on political overtones when Mr Ruiz used strong-arm tactics in an attempt to repress it. Since then chaos has reigned in Oaxaca City. In the latest incidents, an alleged rapist and a petty thief were beaten up and tied to trees in public view.

Flavio Sosa, the leader of the People’s Assembly (APPO), which is heading the revolt, claimed that the gunmen who killed Mr Hernández were in the pay of the state government. He added that the Senate’s predicted refusal to accede to the removal of Mr Ruiz “gives carte blanche to the people who are killing our comrades in Oaxaca”.

With a tentative peace accord, reached little more than a week ago with the interior ministry, in tatters, the rebels are stepping up preparations for what they fear will be an attempt by federal authorities to resolve the issue by force.

Barricades were being reinforced in Oaxaca City and APPO “mobile units” were once again reported to be clearing state office buildings of staff. The PRI, the party that ruled Mexico for seven decades before Mr Fox’s 2000 election victory, is adamant that Mr Ruiz – a noted “dinosaur”, as its more reactionary elements are known – should remain.

APPO leaders said they would hold a “mega-march” on Saturday in Mexico City where they hoped to be joined by supporters from trade unions and other leftwing groups. It also has the support of the ruling PAN, which fielded a joint candidate with the PRD in the election that brought Mr Ruiz to power.

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