Thousands protest following latest security lapses

 

Thousands of people took to the streets in cities and towns throughout Mexico this weekend to protest a wave of robberies, kidnappings and murder, many of them attributed to the nation's own police force. Last week the director and second-in-command of Mexico's elite anti-kidnapping unit were themselves kidnapped, along with their driver, Mr Gilberto Mariscal. He turned up last Wednesday in a Mexico City park, beaten and worried about the fate of his bosses.

"There was no kidnapping," said Mr Domingo Tassanari, head of the anti-kidnapping unit, who dismissed the incident as a diabetic hallucination. "The driver's sugar levels rose and he didn't know what he was saying," Mr Tassanari concluded at a hastily-convened press conference.

Within 24 hours Mr Mariscal himself had revised his initial testimony. "I meant I was from the kidnapping department, not that I was kidnapped," he said, to widespread scepticism.

It is generally believed that Mr Tassanari was kidnapped by gang leader Daniel Arizmendi, accused of organising dozens of the 293 kidnappings reported in the past two years.

In Cuernavaca, a wave of kidnappings led to angry citizen mobilisations and an investigation that revealed current and out-of-work police officials involved in the business.

In another high-profile case, a wealthy Japanese businessman was mugged by two men in the city centre, sparking off doubts on Mexico as a safe place to do business. The culprits were quickly tracked down - two police officers, on duty at the time.

In an effort to impose order on Mexico City, where 212,000 crimes have been reported this year, President Ernesto Zedillo replaced police chiefs with military commanders. The results have been disastrous as crime figures have risen faster than ever.

Reuters adds from Mexico City: A crusading Mexican journalist fighting for his life after being shot by gunmen in a drug-related hit was "serious but stable" yesterday after a second session of emergency surgery.

Mr Jesus Blancornelas, editor of the weekly Zeta, was hit by three bullets when a group of men ambushed and opened fire on his car on Thursday morning in the northern city of Tijuana. Mr Blancornelas was rushed to hospital for an emergency operation that lasted 4 1/2 hours. He underwent a second round of surgery in Tijuana's Prado Hospital on Saturday.