The students from a teachers’ college went missing after they clashed with police in Iguala in the volatile, gang-ridden state of Guerrero on Sept. 26. A mass grave was found near the town over the weekend, full of charred human remains.
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“Mexico has become worse than a death camp. I never thought I would live to see something so horrible,” said Mariela Lopez, a 56-year-old teacher from Mexico City as she walked under the hot afternoon sun down the capital’s central boulevard.
Protesters carried photos of missing students and signs that read “Fascist government, assassin of teachers” as they marched past the skyscrapers of the financial district to a historic plaza lined with colonial buildings.
In Guerrero’s capital of Chilpancingo, thousands more marched, blocking the highway that leads from Mexico City to the beach resort of Acapulco.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto vowed on Monday to identify those behind the massacre and make sure they face justice.
Guerrero’s attorney general, Inaky Blanco, said on Sunday that 28 bodies had been found at a mass grave site so far, adding it was “probable” that some of the missing 43 students are among the remains.
Their disappearance is only the latest incident of bloody violence that is becoming an increasing problem for Pena Nieto, who has sought to shift attention away from Mexico’s gang wars to the economic reforms he has pushed through Congress.
Some 22 local police have been arrested in connection with the violent incidents in Guerrero while the town’s mayor has fled and is being investigated for links to the crimes, as is the head of security for Iguala.
Blanco said the leader of a local gang known as the Guerreros Unidos conspired with security officials to carry out the killings.
Protesters are demanding the state’s governor Angel Aguirre resign and that the federal government find the missing students and punish politicians linked to organized crime.
“I think these kinds of atrocities happen because the people in power think that they will always be on top, and nobody will be able to touch them,” said Marco, a 23-year-old university student who did not want to give his last name.
Pena Nieto took office two years ago, pledging to end a wave of violence that has killed about 100,000 people since the start of 2007. Though homicides have fallen on his watch, other crimes have increased, including extortion and kidnapping.
(Writing by Michael O’Boyle; Editing by Simon Gardner and Ken Wills)