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10 tons of cocaine seized in Mexican port town

From Times Wire Services

mexico city -- Mexican soldiers seized at least 10 tons of cocaine Friday after a gun battle with drug smugglers in an eastern port town, the army said.

The shootout took place in Tampico in Tamaulipas state, which is territory claimed by the Gulf cartel, one of the two most powerful drug gangs in Mexico.

The Defense Ministry denied earlier government and media reports that as many as 15 people had been killed in the shootout, but said that at least 10 tons of cocaine had been found in a large truck in the steamy Gulf of Mexico town.

The haul was being weighed and could be bigger than initially reported, the army said.

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Seven men were arrested in the raid, which resulted from a tip that led the soldiers to the traffickers. Those arrested were unloading bales of cocaine from the truck, the army said.

Since taking office in December, President Felipe Calderon has deployed thousands of troops across Mexico to go after the dominant Gulf and Sinaloa cartels.

Visiting Tamaulipas on Friday, he spoke of his clampdown on the violent and wealthy gangs that smuggle huge amounts of cocaine, amphetamines and marijuana into the United States.

Among recent successes in the offensive, police last week arrested Sandra Avila Beltran, reputedly a top trafficker who is nicknamed “Queen of the Pacific.” She was arrested with her Colombian boyfriend, reputed drug lord Juan Diego Espinoza Ramirez, in an upscale Mexico City neighborhood.

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A judge Friday ordered Avila Beltran to stand trial on charges of organized crime, money laundering and conspiracy to traffic drugs. She says she made her money selling clothes and renting houses.

The ruling means that Avila Beltran, who is wanted in the United States, won’t be extradited until her trial is completed here, Avila Beltran, known for her good looks, has been romantically linked to several top traffickers.

Mexican prosecutors have accused Avila Beltran of being the Sinaloa cartel’s liaison with other drug gangs and of facilitating the movement of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico, including 9 tons confiscated from a ship in the Pacific port of Manzanillo in 2002.

U.S. Embassy personnel were not immediately able to say what charges Avila Beltran faces in the United States.

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