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Old 09-15-09, 10:25 PM   #1
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Post Tragedy overshadows Mexico's independence holiday (AP)

AP - Mexicans celebrated their Independence Day under heavy police surveillance Tuesday and with a somber memorial for eight revelers killed last year in a shocking grenade attack on the public by drug traffickers.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu placed flowers in the plaza in the colonial city of Morelia, where 106 people also were wounded in the first deliberate attack on civilians by cartels. Morelia is the state capital of Calderon's home state of Michoacan, where the La Familia drug gang is based.

The attack rocked the nation by targeting a cherished tradition — one that brings millions of Mexicans together in public plazas each year to celebrate the 1810 start of Mexico's 10-year war of independence from Spain.

The Guatemalan peace activist urged people to attend Tuesday night's festivities and not fall into "a culture of fear."

"We can't lose our right to be out on the streets," said Menchu, an Indian rights activist whose family was killed during the Guatemalan civil war.

Michoacan Gov. Leonel Godoy said this year's celebrations would be overshadowed by last year's killings.

Snipers took positions on roofs of centuries-old buildings around Morelia's picturesque plaza Tuesday. Hundreds of jubilant revelers still turned out, but the crowd was notably thinner than in past years. The square was missing vendors who ordinarily hawk tamales, Mexican flags and noisemakers.

Last year, the attack came during the traditional "grito," or shout of independence shortly before midnight. Godoy had just finished yelling "Viva Mexico!" from a balcony, when two grenades exploded simultaneously in the crowd, blocks apart. He was unharmed.

The government arrested three men who said they belong to the Zetas, a group of hit men tied to the Gulf cartel. Relatives of the suspects say the men were kidnapped and tortured into confessing.

Godoy delivered the "grito" without incident Tuesday night.

In Mexico City, police checked revelers with hand-held metal detectors before letting them into the streets surrounding the main plaza, called the Zocalo. Mexico City police said more than 10,000 police were deployed at the square.

Even so, tens of thousands of raucous celebrants joyfully watched Calderon emerge onto the National Palace balcony and shout "Viva Mexico!" three times, waving a Mexican flag. The crowd echoed his cries then cheered as they watched fireworks lighting up the cloudy night sky.

Other cities took precautions as well. In Ciudad Juarez on the Texas border, Mexico's deadliest city, hundreds of police and soldiers patrolled near independence festivities and checked people randomly.

The bloodshed continued in other parts of the border city, with five people shot to death at a car wash Tuesday evening. Ten people were killed in two other shootings Monday night.

Mexico's Senate called for a minute of silence in honor of the victims' memory.

"On September 15, 2008 ... organized crime inaugurated a new era in the country's violence," said Sen. Jesus Garibay, adding that the attack "made the whole nation tremble."

The attack was seen as a defiant response to Calderon's crackdown on organized crime, launched in 2006 from Michoacan with the arrival of thousands of troops. Since then, the government has deployed more than 45,000 soldiers and federal police to drug hotspots.

Drug traffickers have responded fiercely, unleashing unprecedented violence with shootouts and gruesome decapitations. More than 13,500 people have been killed by drug violence in 3 1/2 years. The government says most of the dead were involved in drug trafficking.

Some civilians, including children, have been caught in the crossfire, but the general public is rarely targeted.


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