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Thousands of Mexicans rally to protest rising crime wave

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Tens of thousands of people across Mexico took to the streets Saturday to air their anger and frustration over the nation's intensifying crime wave and to demand government action.

Dressed in white and bearing white roses and daisies, a sea of marchers packed the famed Paseo de la Reforma to press the nation's leaders to act to curb kidnappings, blamed in part on renegade police, and brutal killings said to be carried out by drug trafficking gangs and their confederates.

Authorities released no estimate of the crowd size, but organizers said hundreds of thousands of people participated.

"We're tired. We're tired of the corruption," said Jose Antonio Villegas Campos, 56, an antique-coin store owner who said robbers had hit his shop and stolen jewelry from his wife at gunpoint. "The authorities here don't do anything."

Some marchers carried photos of relatives who had been kidnapped. Others waved signs that said, "Enough!" One man splashed theatrical blood on his face and dangled chains from his wrists.

Most seemed to have a first-hand account of what it is like to be a crime victim.

"I want the president to do something -- it's in his hands. Save Mexico," said Leticia Martinez, 44, referring to President Felipe Calderon. She said that a year ago a gunman forced her from her car and drove off in it.

Similar marches took place in dozens of communities and in several foreign cities.

Anger has boiled over in the weeks since the death of Fernando Marti, the 14-year-old son of a wealthy businessman, whose body was found after his family reportedly paid millions of dollars to kidnappers.

At least two Mexico City police officers were suspected of involvement, provoking more fury among residents weary of endemic corruption and apparent impunity.

The Calderon government has struggled to show results from its 21-month-old offensive against organized crime.

More than 2,600 people have died this year in drug-related violence, according to unofficial counts by Mexican news outlets.

Calderon two weeks ago summoned governors and police officials to announce new anti-crime measures. The plan included building more prisons, with special areas for convicted kidnappers, and more aid for local law enforcement.

"We don't want more promises. We want security," said Laura Elena Herrejon, one of the organizers. The Mexico City march ended at the Zocalo, the main plaza, with the group lighting thousands of white candles.

Analysts say the crime issue could loom large in midterm congressional elections next year. Calderon's conservative National Action Party, or PAN, could suffer at the polls if his campaign fails to reduce the violence.

In the northern city of Monterrey, more than 20,000 people marched quietly around the huge downtown plaza, occasionally breaking into the Mexican national anthem.

The industrial city was once one of Mexico's safest. But it has been shaken by assassinations of police officers and kidnappings of relatives of prominent businessmen and politicians.

"The government needs to be aware that the population is fed up," said Luis Farias, an attorney and one of the organizers there.


Times staff writer Sam Quiñones in Monterrey contributed to this report.

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