Top Official of Mexico's Ruling Party Is Slain : Assassination: Francisco Ruiz Massieu's death is the latest incident in a mounting wave of violence.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Francisco Ruiz Massieu, the second-ranking official of Mexico's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, was assassinated Wednesday outside a downtown hotel in the latest incident in a mounting wave of violence that has shaken this nation.

The 48-year-old lawyer was believed to have been a candidate for the politically powerful interior minister post in the Cabinet of Ernesto Zedillo, who was elected president last month and will take office Dec. 1.

Ruiz Massieu died in surgery Wednesday morning, an hour after he suffered a single shot in the left side of the neck from a machine gun. The bullet exited through his back.

Authorities arrested a suspect in the killing and identified him as Joel or Hector Resendiz. He is from Ruiz Massieu's hometown of Acapulco, assistant Atty. Gen. Mario Ruiz Massieu, who is the victim's brother, told reporters.

No motive has been established, though many Mexicans are convinced that this was another political slaying.

Investigators, however, are said to believe that the killing was narcotics-related--a warning to Mario Ruiz Massieu, who heads the federal drug enforcement program.

Wednesday's assassination was the most recent indication of a growing propensity toward violence in this nation, which has prided itself on peace and stability. It is the first such incident to occur in the capital.

Authorities are still investigating the assassination last year in Guadalajara of Cardinal Juan Jesus Posados Ocampo and the Tijuana killings of PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio and Police Chief Jose Federico Benitez earlier this year.

A rebel uprising that left more than 165 people dead in the southern state of Chiapas remains unresolved.

Ruiz Massieu was killed as he left a breakfast for newly elected federal deputies at a PRI building near the fashionable Paseo de la Reforma.

Witnesses told police that they saw a young man with a burr haircut and wearing jeans approach the Buick sedan that Ruiz Massieu was driving as he pulled away from the curb in front of the hotel.

The suspect pulled a machine gun--one witness said it was an Uzi--out of a newspaper and fired through the windshield on the driver's side of the auto.

Ruiz Massieu slumped to the right. The suspect tried to keep firing but his gun jammed. A bank security guard tackled Resendiz and turned him over to federal police when they arrived.

A parade of prominent politicians, many with their eyes red and swollen, gathered at the hospital where doctors had struggled to save Ruiz Massieu's life, offering their condolences to the family.

A stern-faced President Carlos Salinas de Gortari called the slaying an "aberrant crime." Zedillo termed it "an aggression against the Mexican people."

The news sent the Mexican stock exchange index tumbling 3.12%, although it rebounded to close down 1.9%, or 53.61 points, at 2,764.82. The peso also dropped 2 centavos--less than 1%--against the U.S. dollar.

"This is a reminder, an almost frustrating one for investors who had been waiting on the sidelines until they thought the issues were sorted out, that the political issues are not solved," said Rogelio Ramirez de la O, president of Ecanal, an economic analysis firm in the capital. "This is a specific reminder that the political tension has not been eliminated despite the election results" that gave the PRI an overwhelming majority in both houses of Congress and the narrowest presidential victory in its history.

The violence, particularly the Colosio and Ruiz Massieu assassinations, is widely seen as a graphic indicator of the deep divisions and breakdown of discipline within the PRI, which has ruled the country for 65 years.

The party's ability to unite the disparate factions that emerged from the 1910 Revolution--by its serving as a clearinghouse for political favors--has been threatened by the growing pressure for democratic reforms within the PRI and the overall Mexican political system.

"This has become the new form of politics, eliminating each other," said Homero Aridjis, an author and social critic.

Traditionally, the months between Mexico's presidential election and the inauguration have been notable for backbiting and minor instability as politicians jockey for positions in the new government. But that jousting is usually nonviolent.

Officially, Ruiz Massieu was to become majority leader in the Chamber of Deputies. Unofficially, he and PRI Chairman Ignacio Pichardo were the contenders for interior minister in Zedillo's Cabinet.

"Ruiz Massieu represented the younger breed, the least committed to the Old Guard," said Ramirez de la O. "Even if Zedillo gets away with imposing his choice now, anybody in that position knows that his life is in peril."

While agreeing that the motive for the killing was undoubtedly political, other analysts were less sure about what message was intended and for whom.

Ruiz Massieu "was capable of developing instant political ties and had the great political advantage of a bad memory--he quickly forgot both friends and enemies," one party insider said. "He could quickly act as second to any boss. I see no reason for eliminating him."

A former governor of Guerrero, the state where Acapulco is located, Ruiz Massieu began working for the government as an official in the federal workers' housing program. His career took off during the administration of his former professor, Miguel de la Madrid, who named him undersecretary of health. Ruiz Massieu was divorced from Salinas' sister.

Ruiz Massieu represented the ruling party in the Federal Electoral Institute, which ran last month's presidential election--generally considered the cleanest in modern Mexican history. He was secretary general of the PRI and "clearly a member of the inner circle," a high government official said.

Susan Drummet of The Times' Mexico City Bureau contributed to this report.

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