Hundreds of students and teachers smashed windows and set fires inside a state capital building in southern Mexico on Monday, as fury erupted over the disappearance of 43 young people believed abducted by local police linked to a drug cartel.
The protesters called for the 43 students from a rural teachers’ college in Guerrero state, missing since Sept. 26, to be returned alive, even though fears have grown that 10 newly discovered mass graves could contain their bodies.
AP photographs showed smoke billowing from the government building in Chilpancingo, the capital of Guerrero, and flames licking from office windows. Firefighters battled the blaze.
Jose Villanueva Manzanarez, spokesman for Guerrero’s government, said the protesting members of a teachers’ union initially tried to get into the state congress in Chilpancingo but were repelled by anti-riot police. They then headed to the state government palace.
With the support of hundreds of students from the Ayotzinapa teachers’ college, the teachers blockaded the capital building, attacking it with battle bars, rocks and Molotov cocktails, he said.
The violence came more than two weeks after police in Iguala, also in Guerrero state, opened fire on the teacher’s college students, killing at least six. Witnesses have said that dozens of students were taken away by police and have not been seen since. Twenty-six local police officers have been detained, and officials are attempting to determine if any of the students are in the mass graves nearby.
The confrontation in Iguala shed light on a widespread problem with local police in Mexico: They are often linked to organized crime. In the case of Iguala, the police who attacked the students were working with the local cartel, Guerreros Unidos, according to testimony of those arrested.
Monday’s protests came after police in Guerrero shot and wounded a German university student in a reported case of mistaken identity, prosecutors said.
The victim, Kim Fritz Kaiser, is an exchange student at the Monterrey Institute of Technology, Mexico City campus, said institute director Pedro Grassa.
He told Milenio television Monday that Kaiser is in good condition and that that injury was not grave, though Kaiser will remain under observation.
Kaiser was in a van with other students — another German, two French and six Mexicans — traveling back from Acapulco and passing through Chilpancingo just after a confrontation between police and kidnappers that killed one officer.
Police tried to stop the van, believing it was suspicious. Police said they opened fire when they heard something that sounded like a shot or detonation, said Victor Leon Maldonado of the Guerrero state prosecutor’s office. The students kept driving, fearing that armed men might be trying to kidnap them, state prosecutor Inaky Blanco said.
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Maldonado told reporters in a press conference that the officers shot at the bottom of the van, trying to hit the tires to make it stop. Kaiser was shot in the buttocks. The police involved have been detained and their weapons are being tested, according to a statement from the state attorney general’s office.
A U.S. State Department travel warning issued last week said U.S. citizens should avoid Chilpancingo along with all parts of Guerrero state outside of the Pacific resorts of Acapulco, Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo and the tourist attractions of Taxco and the Cacahuamilpa caves.
A previous warning in January already advised against travel in the northwestern part of the state near the border with Mexico state, where Iguala is located.