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Mexico: Student Protests Over Free Market Policies Spread

by John RiceAssociated Press
February 9th, 2000

MEXICO CITY -- Administrators started returning to Mexico's largest university Tuesday, two days after a police raid ended a 9-month occupation by striking students.

But while courts freed most of the 745 people arrested in Sunday's raid, the turmoil at the National Autonomous University spilled into national politics and onto other campuses in the Mexican capital.

Students at other city universities demonstrated in favor of strikers still imprisoned.

Mexico City's leftist mayor, Rosario Robles, appeared in television advertisements to denounce the federal raid on the 270,000-student school known by Spanish acronym, UNAM. She demanded freedom for all those arrested.

"To avoid making Mexico City a victim of a conflict ... it is urgent that the Federal Preventative Police leave the university installations and that the detained students be freed," said Robles, herself a UNAM graduate.

With a presidential election in July nearing, federal officials suggested Robles' opposition-party city government had shirked its responsibility by refusing to help retake the school.

The federal police on Tuesday turned over several parts of the campus to university officials, who drove past barricades to tour structures emblazoned with revolutionary slogans. Some buildings had been carefully maintained by strikers; others had been looted and were strewn with garbage.

The federal attorney general's office announced that 579 of the adults arrested Sunday had been freed, though some might face other charges. Another 77 minors were turned over to the juvenile court system.

Still in jail were 89 strike leaders and supporters, mostly on charges of seizing public buildings or theft. Another 86 people have been held on various charges since a violent clash on Jan. 26 at one of the university's high schools. Late Tuesday, 85 of those suspects were ordered held for trial and one was released.

The strike began last April to protest an increase in UNAM's minimal tuition and other reforms. University officials quickly backed off on the tuition issue, but radicals controlling the strike committee pressed ahead with the strike, seeing it as part of a struggle against free-market economic policies.

Insisting on freedom for those arrested, faculty and students on Tuesday staged a one-day strike of support at another school, the Metropolitan Autonomous University's campus in northwestern Mexico City.

Students at the two other campuses of that university, which has about 45,000 students in all, also were voting on whether to join the demonstration.

Hundreds of members of the UNAM strike committee met Monday in a plaza at the Metropolitan campus in southern Mexico City, denouncing the police raid and pledging to continue the strike.

"We have confidence in our comrades, knowing that no one with a minimum of dignity and conscience would set foot in a classroom taken violently by military police in violation of the university's autonomy," the strike council said in a statement.

UNAM Rector Juan Ramon de la Fuente has urged officials to drop charges against those arrested Sunday or at least to be lenient.

But when asked whether officials would show goodwill with an amnesty, Interior Secretary Diodoro Carrasco told reporters Tuesday: "This is not a problem of goodwill; it is a problem of application of the law. It is a problem of maintaining order, and political and social stability."

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