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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Leader of Oaxaca protests arrested

MEXICO CITY - Leftist protesters from the southern city of Oaxaca demanded Tuesday that the government release a jailed leader of the movement and threatened to return to the streets if he is not freed.

Flavio Sosa was arrested late Monday and charged with kidnapping, robbery, and causing damages and injuries related to the protesters' five-month takeover of downtown Oaxaca. He was detained in Mexico City along with his brother and two other men, hours after he gave a news conference saying he had come to the capital to reopen talks with the government.

Leaders of the leftist People's Assembly of Oaxaca, or APPO, have called for a weekend march to demand the release of Sosa and other protesters even as life in the city visibly returns to normal after burned-out vehicles and barricades were removed from the streets. Some residents warn simmering discontent about poverty, injustice and oppression could erupt into violence again at any time.

"Flavio Sosa and the three other people detained for crimes will face an impartial legal process, in which they will have access to legal assistance if they request it," the Interior Department said Tuesday after a closed-door meeting in Mexico City with members of the People's Assembly of Oaxaca.

The Oaxaca conflict, in which at least nine people have died, began in late May as a strike by teachers seeking higher pay, but quickly exploded into a broader movement including Indian groups, students, farmers and myriad left-leaning activists claiming Oaxaca Gov. Ulises Ruiz rigged his electoral victory and has repressed opponents.

The conflict kept residents away from the city's historic center for more than five months and forced nearly all the shops and restaurants to close their doors. Former President
Vicente Fox in late October sent in federal troops, who cleared protesters from the streets.

Another protest leader, Zenen Bravo, described Tuesday's talks as an important start, but said the movement would continue to demand the resignation of Ruiz.

"They (government officials) expressed their willingness to continue the dialogue in the same terms as the previous administration," Bravo told reporters. "These talks will have to take up both the latest situation in Oaxaca, concerning repression by federal police, but will also have to address the underlying problems, which involves the departure of Ulises Ruiz."

New President Felipe Calderon took office on Friday.

Tomas Basaldu, Oaxacan state leader of Mexico's leftist Democratic Revolution Party, said he was meeting with the protesters.

"We will take action in the next few days," he said. "We won't lower our guard in backing the protesters."

Located about 325 miles southeast of Mexico City and featuring colonial architecture and Indian crafts, Oaxaca is one of the country's premier tourist destinations. But tourism plummeted amid the violence, which prompted the U.S. and several other foreign governments to warn their citizens against traveling to the city.

Protest leaders have said 220 protesters have been detained during the conflict but police say the figure is 170. Protesters also claimed some detainees had been beaten, and that another 70 supporters of the movement are missing. Most were arrested on charges related to starting fires, erecting barricades, blockading streets or attacking police.

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