MAC: Mines and Communities

Mexico Police Storm Steel Plant, 2 Shot Dead

Published by MAC on 2006-04-20
Source: Reuters ()

Mexico police storm steel plant, 2 shot dead

by Reuters, MEXICO CITY

20th April 2006

Hundreds of Mexican police stormed a major steel plant on Thursday to force out striking workers in a violent clash that spilled onto the streets and left at least two workers dead.

Steel workers and police with riot gear and shields fought a pitched battle at the Sicartsa complex, which has been closed for three weeks by workers defending a union boss whom the government accuses of graft.

Dozens were injured when some 600 police moved in firing tear gas canisters early in the morning at the plant in the western state of Michoacan.

A state official initially put the death toll at three, including one person who was crushed to death, but the government's web site later changed the death toll to two.

Both workers and police were hurt, some of them by people in the crowd throwing stones and homemade petrol bombs.

"A very violent conflict situation arose," said Enrique Bautista, a senior official in the state government, in a radio interview.

The Villacero steel company (http://www.villacero.com/) briefly regained control of its Sicartsa complex as strikers were pushed out but it later said workers were again blocking access to the plant and it was unlikely to reopen on Friday.

Dozens of Marines backed up police but did not take part in the clashes.

The shootings came at a bad time for President Vicente Fox, who has tried to play up political and economic stability under his rule as presidential elections approach in July.

Fox met members of his security cabinet to discuss the violence as well as drug killings in the resort of Acapulco.

Leftist presidential front runner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said the killings "cannot be accepted."

"No one should use public force to repress the people of Mexico," he said at a campaign stop in his home state of Tabasco.

'A VIOLENT EVACUATION'

"There was a violent evacuation where more than 600 officers from different police forces in Michoacan entered the complex to end the strike," said union spokeswoman Consuelo Aguilar. "We don't know where it will end."

It was the worst clash since thousands of mining and metals workers across the country went on strike last month in defense of union boss Napoleon Gomez, whom the government no longer recognizes because of corruption accusations.

The Labor Ministry this week declared the strike illegal.

The dispute followed a horrific mining accident in northern Mexico in February where 65 workers died in an underground gas explosion, sparking angry protests over mine safety and the failure of rescue teams to reach the bodies.

The police arrived quietly on Thursday morning, some arriving by boat behind the plant, according to a local reporter.

People living nearby -- some in pajamas -- came out to support the steel workers, blocking roads and burning vehicles. Two buses and a police car were set alight, the reporter said.

"The national union strongly condemns the use of violence to resolve labor conflicts. The strike at the Lazaro Cardenas (Sicartsa) plant is legitimate," the union said in a statement. It said two workers had died.

Striking miners have also shut down copper producer Grupo Mexico's La Caridad mine, badly hurting the company's output and helping to send international prices for the metal to record highs.

Grupo Mexico told Reuters on Thursday it was unaware of immediate plans to force workers to stop blocking access to that mine, which produces 140,000 tonnes of copper concentrate a year.

(Additional reporting Noel Randewich and Catherine Bremer)

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