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MEXICO: Rocks, Tear Gas at Cancun Protest

by Traci CarlAssociated Press
February 28th, 2001

Injured protesters were loaded into ambulances and tourists strolled past bloodstained streets in this beach resort after police charged a group of anti-globalization demonstrators,kicking and beating those they could catch.

The melee, which left about 19 people injured, came Tuesday after a three-hour standoff that blocked the peninsula's main highway and brought much of the resort's traffic to a halt.

Hundreds of protesters had been holding two days of marches against the World Economic Forum's Mexico meeting, where business and political leaders gathered at an upscale hotel to discuss the country's economic future.

President Vicente Fox, who gave the meeting's closing speech, seemed to answer protesters' calls, saying his government would provide more educational and social services for the poor. He also called on the private sector to help put a ''human face'' on globalization.

''Wealth without distribution is not sustainable or human,'' he said. ''We can't close our eyes to the millions of people in the world and in Mexico who live on $1 a day.''

But shortly after he finished his speech, police several miles away charged through a barricade and surprised protesters, many of whom were talking with friends or lounging in the shade. Several, sweating in the midday heat, had taken off helmets and gas masks that they brought in case the demonstration turned violent.

Rocks flew from both sides, and police beat fleeing demonstrators and fired tear gas to disperse them.

The federal Notimex news agency reported late Tuesday that at least 19 people, mostly demonstrators but at least three reporters, were injured. Reporters saw some of them bleeding heavily.

State police told Notimex that 60 people were arrested, some for offending public morals by stripping nude in front of officers before the police charge.

As he chased demonstrators through one of the city's main intersections, one policeman shouted, ''Comeback, dogs!''

Afterward, protesters ripped up manhole covers and scattered debris across the streets.

One tourist from Philadelphia, Gil Smith, chased after the retreating officers shouting ''Fascists!''

Smith and his wife took part in anti-globalization protests last April in Washington, and he said they happened to come to Cancun for vacation during the protests here. They were eating lunch when the demonstrators marched by.

''We quickly gulped down our food and followed them,''Smith said. ''We realized these people needed protection'' in the form of unofficial international observers.

Limping back to the protesters' camp with a bloody nose, Daniel Meiners, 22, said the police action was an example of ''the state of oppression in which we live.''

Meiners said he saw an officer throw a rock that hit him in the face, and he pulled up his shirt to reveal scrapes on his back where he said he had been kicked.

Miguel Hernandez, another protester, called Fox's speech ironic, adding that it ''totally contradicts reality.''

Opponents of globalization have been staging large protests at major economic conferences worldwide since December 1999, when they contributed to the collapse of the World Trade Organization talks in Seattle.





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