Genocide Charges Denied in Mexico

From Reuters

Former Mexican President Luis Echeverria, under house arrest in connection with a 1968 student massacre, told a judge Wednesday that he was not guilty of genocide and moved to have the charges dropped.

Echeverria, 84, made his first court declaration at home in a private audience with the judge, who has until Sunday to decide whether to proceed with a trial or dismiss the case, defense lawyer Juan Velasquez said.

The former president is under house arrest instead of in jail because of his age and health concerns.

In a surprise ruling last week, two days before Mexico's presidential election, an appeals court ruled that there was enough evidence to support a charge of genocide.

Echeverria, president from 1970 to 1976 at the height of a so-called dirty war against leftists, denied any wrongdoing.

"There is no proof that I was author of or participated in a crime," he said in a written statement to Judge Ranulfo Castillo. Echeverria also argued that no genocide occurred and that too much time had passed to prosecute him.

He was interior minister in charge of national security when government troops stormed a student rally in the capital on Oct. 2, 1968, days before the opening of the Olympic Games in Mexico City.

Officials said about 30 people were killed in what became known as the Tlatelolco massacre. Witnesses and human rights activists put the death toll as high as 300.

Outside Echeverria's sprawling Mexico City residence, survivors of the bloodshed demanded that his hearing be public. They carried signs reading, "Prison for the assassin."

The arrest, after two failed attempts to charge Echeverria with genocide, was a breakthrough in President Vicente Fox's halting drive to punish those responsible for past government brutality. Fox leaves office in December.

Prosecutors say Echeverria oversaw a systematic campaign to wipe out dissidents under autocratic, one-party rule and planned the 1968 crackdown with that in mind.

His defense team argued that the slayings did not constitute genocide.

Evidence shows 43 protesters and troops were killed in clashes but not as a result of any "state policy of extermination," Echeverria's legal team said.

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