Bush Protesters Clash With Police In Mexico

Wednesday, March 14th 2007, 7:05 am
By: News On 6

MERIDA, Mexico (AP) _ Violent protests dogged President Bush on a visit to Mexico, with demonstrators lobbing concrete blocks at his hotel, smashing up a nearby town hall and battling riot police outside the U.S. Embassy in the Mexican capital.

The Tuesday disturbances were only the latest clashes during Bush's five-country tour of Latin America, where many blame him for tougher U.S. immigration policies and opposition runs deep against the war in Iraq.

On Friday, police fired tear gas and sent baton charges against thousands of protesters in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Scores of rioters rampaged Sunday in Bogota, Colombia, breaking shop windows and ripping computers from offices before police hit back with tear gas and water cannons.

Bush's meeting with President Felipe Calderon in this colonial town in southeastern Mexico is the last stop on his tour.

About 100 protesters marched to Bush's hotel for the second night in a row carrying Mexican flags and calling the U.S. president a ``murderer.''

The protesters pounded on high metal security barriers outside the hotel in an unsuccessful attempt to bring them down and hurled chunks of concrete from sidewalks over the barrier at riot police lining the other side. Bush was away from his hotel having dinner with Calderon.

In Mexico City, several hundred demonstrators burned U.S. flags and waved banners with slogans against the U.S. president such as, ``Bush you are not welcome in Mexico. Go to hell.''

``We are in disagreement with the war policy,'' of Bush, said Guadalupe Fernandez, 64, a craftswoman who was protesting but not involved in the violence. ``Bush is desperate because Latin America is moving toward the left.''

Leftist leaders have won elections across the continent in recent years, often with campaigns packed full of anti-U.S. rhetoric. For most of Bush's tour, Leftist President Hugo Chavez shadowed the U.S. president from a distance, taunting his ideological rival and crying out ``gringo go home.''

A group of about 30 masked protesters clad in black led an attack on the thick lines of riot police defending the U.S. Embassy, unleashing a constant barrage of concrete they had ripped from the sidewalk and using metal fences as battering rams. They also attacked officers with sticks, metal bars and blow torches made out of spray cans.

Mexican police responded with tear gas, pepper spray, and baton charges, throwing back rocks and clubbing demonstrators down.

Several protesters were arrested or injured, one with blood pouring from his head, as they dispersed.

Lorenzo Fernandez, the commanding officer at the scene, said the police were only defending themselves.

In Merida, a Mexican radio journalist at a protest was hit with a slab of concrete and taken to hospital.

About 30 protesters also ran into Merida's central square, smashing windows of the town hall and spraying graffiti on the walls. Hundreds of riot place chased them out, arresting several demonstrators.

Security was heavy, with American helicopters patrolling the skies and plainclothes secret service agents patrolling in guayabera shirts and straw hats.

Tourists dining at sidewalk cafes watched the protests curiously and took photographs and videos with their cell phones.

Erin Graham, a 24-year-old student from Houston, said she rushed out the central square with her two small children as riot police clashed with protesters.

``Studying Mexican history, I read about this a lot,'' she said, ``but I wanted to see it in person.''