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Thousands join Mexican march against drug violence

From Rey Rodriguez, CNN
  • NEW: "Silent march" leader calls on president to fire top security official
  • Protesters read list of demands in Mexico City's central plaza
  • Demonstrators have been marching since Thursday
  • The leader of the march is a well-known poet whose son was killed in March

Mexico City (CNN) -- Thousands of demonstrators marched in silence toward Mexico City's central square Sunday, carrying banners and signs that demanded an end to the country's drug war.

Well-known Mexican poet Javier Sicilia led protesters on their 80-kilometer (50-mile) journey, which began Thursday in the central city of Cuernavaca.

More than 65,000 people participated in Sunday's march, the state-run Notimex news agency reported, citing Mexico City police.

Speaking before a sea of demonstrators at the large plaza in the heart of the nation's capital Sunday afternoon, activists read a list of demands that they said were part of a "national pact." They gave government officials a deadline of June 10 to sign on to the deal.

Their proposed agreement included "demanding an end to the strategy of war," the removal of corruption from all three levels of government in less than six months, and the quick solving of several notable high-profile cases -- including the killing of Sicilia's son.

Protesters also said that authorities should budget just as much money for education and youth programs as they do for security.

Sicilia has become one of the most outspoken opponents of Mexico's drug war and widespread drug-related violence since his son's slaying in March. He has led several demonstrations and vocally criticized officials' handling of the case.

"There are good people in the army, but the structures of the institutions are very bad. The police are not carrying out justice," he said Sunday morning.

Sicilia also called on criminals to stop attacking innocent victims.

"We are not their enemies. We are not at war with them," he said.

As demonstrators set out Thursday, Sicilia criticized Mexican President Felipe Calderon's crackdown on cartels, which began in December 2006. Since then, Mexican authorities estimate that more than 34,600 people have been killed in drug-related violence.

"We cannot understand a war that is badly planned, a war that is badly directed," he said.

Sicilia on Sunday called on the president to fire his secretary of public safety, the country's top security official and one of the key architects of federal crime-fighting policy.

"It would be a message from the president, saying that yes he heard us," Sicilia said. "Not that he dies, but that they fire him. No more dead. ... Violence will bring us to more violence."

He demanded reform not just from Calderon, but from all the nation's political parties.

"We want to affirm here that we will not accept the results of any more elections if beforehand the political parties do not clean their ranks of those who, masked in legality, are colluding with crime and co-opting the state," he said.

The march included demonstrators from all across Mexico, from the northern border state of Chihuahua to the southern state of Chiapas.

The protesters largely remained silent as they proceeded, letting T-shirts and signs send a clear message to onlookers.

One woman from Chihuahua wore a T-shirt that she said depicted pictures of friends that had disappeared.

Others carried signs that said "No more blood" and "No more violence."

A group of university students handed out fliers demanding more study and work opportunities in order to stop the burgeoning drug-trafficking industry.

Sicilia's 24-year-old son was found dead on March 28, crammed into a car with six other bodies in Cuernavaca. Masking tape was wrapped around their heads, faces, wrists and ankles.

Authorities believe all seven victims suffocated to death, and they have said members of Mexico's Pacifico Sur cartel are responsible.

The case has captivated the Mexican public and drawn the attention of some of the country's top leaders, who have defended the nation's crime-fighting strategy.

Without referring directly to the marchers, Calderon issued a statement late Wednesday night reiterating his government's commitment to fighting organized crime.

"If we retreat, we will allow gangs of criminals to walk all the streets of Mexico with impunity, assaulting people without anyone stopping them," he said.

Journalists Hanako Taniguchi and Tania L. Montalvo of contributed to this report.