Mexico's police arrested 31 protesters in the capital city's main square as the government sought to clear thousands of teachers ahead of a ceremony to celebrate the nation's Independence Day.
Federal police detained marchers carrying rocks and gas tanks intended for use as flame throwers in the Mexico City square, known as the Zocalo, which has been occupied since mid- August by teachers protesting education law changes, Commissioner Manuel Mondragon said yesterday, according to a statement published on the Interior Ministry's website. None of those arrested were teachers, Mondragon said.
Riot police clubbed marchers and sprayed them with water cannons yesterday after the demonstrators lobbed objects in a struggle to control the square. Some protesters threw Molotov cocktails at the officers, according to Milenio TV. Thousands of teachers from southern Mexican states have set up a tent city to protest President Enrique Pena Nieto's education overhaul, which was passed this month and requires evaluations to hire and promote educators.
"Those detained were belligerents that broke up pavement to get rocks and brought gas tanks to use as flame throwers," Mondragon said. It was "very intense, aggressive action."
The government is still in talks with teachers and expects to find a solution to end the protests, Interior Minister Miguel Osorio Chong said, according to the statement. The educators now have moved to the Revolution Monument's Republic Square, about 1.6 miles from the Zocalo, according to images broadcast by CNN Mexico.
The Pena Nieto administration ordered the square cleared in time for tomorrow's Independence Day "grito," or shout, traditionally given from the national palace to spectators in the Zocalo.
"The purpose of this is so national festivities can be carried out in the capital's Zocalo without any incident," Deputy Interior Minister Eduardo Sanchez told reporters just before police removed protesters yesterday.
Television images of the clashes showed one man with a bloody face and a police officer wheeled away on a stretcher. The federal police press office declined to comment when contacted by phone about people injured during the teachers' removal. Newspaper El Universal said 29 people received medical attention for injuries, citing the Mexican Red Cross, and 11 police officers were hurt.
Educators have marched almost every day since occupying the square Aug. 19, at times blocking access to the airport, stock exchange and congressional building. More than 15,000 teachers halted traffic on Paseo de la Reforma, the main business boulevard, late last month.
The teachers are members of a union based in southern Mexican states known as the CNTE, whose local chapter in Oaxaca led a five-month revolt in 2006 to demand the resignation of the state's governor. Then President Vicente Fox sent more than 4,500 federal police into Oaxaca City to restore order.