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Zapatista supporters protest in Mexico City

In this story:

January 5, 1998
Web posted at: 11:11 p.m. EST (0411 GMT)

MEXICO CITY (CNN) -- Supporters of the Zapatista rebels from Chiapas state in southern Mexico blocked the Mexican Stock Exchange here Monday morning and temporarily occupied two radio stations.

The demonstrations, which were sparked by a massacre of 45 Indians in Chiapas last month, coincided with a ceremony at the presidential palace where President Ernesto Zedillo appointed Foreign Minister Jose Angel Gurria his new finance minister.

Protesters threw red paint at the walls of the modern, domed stock exchange on Mexico City's central Reforma Avenue and placed coffins in the street to symbolize the deaths of the Indians massacred December 22.

"How much is Indian blood trading at today?" asked one poster stuck to the walls by the Zapatista supporters.

Smart-suited traders looked on without comment, waiting to enter the building. They did not speak to the protesters, who blocked both the front and rear entrances to the building.

The protesters said they were members or supporters of the Zapatista National Liberation Front (FZLN), the political wing of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) whose guerrillas rose up against the government in southern Chiapas state in January 1994.

Most of the protesters were students wearing ordinary clothing, and left quietly after a few hours. No violence was reported.

Officials cut rebel broadcast

At the stock exchange, the start of floor trading was delayed by around 45 minutes by the demonstration, but electronic dealing of Mexican stocks began earlier.

Meanwhile, 40 protesters wearing black ski masks and bandannas occupied a building housing two Mexico City radio stations, Radioactivo and Pulsar FM, for several hours. They demanded that they be allowed to broadcast a taped message from the Zapatistas.

"Unarmed members of the (Zapatista) Front took over the station peacefully this morning and started to transmit things about the problems in Chiapas, but the Interior Ministry cut the broadcast," an employee at Radioactivo told Reuters.

A group of men in black uniforms with black masks carrying automatic weapons arrived and broke up the protest after about four hours, flushing the demonstrators out of the building.

As the agents brandished their weapons, the protesters shouted "Murderers!" and "Are you going to shoot at the people again?"

A Reuters Television cameraman said he saw the men beat one of the protesters before dragging him into a vehicle and driving away with him.

Protesters want Chiapas government sacked

Saul Nunez, an FZLN official, said the protests were a response to the massacre in December.

"We are requesting the dismantling of the paramilitary groups promoted by the government, made up of ruling party members," he said in a telephone interview. "We also want the entire Chiapas state government sacked, those responsible for the massacre punished and the whole country, especially Chiapas, demilitarized."

There was no immediate official comment on the protests. The government has repeatedly stressed in recent days its commitment to seeking a peaceful solution to the Chiapas conflict.

Zedillo's government has repeatedly denied responsibility for the killings. Forty-six people suspected of being members of a paramilitary gang with ties to the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) have been arrested.

Since the massacre, protesters have been camped out at Mexico City's Independence Monument, a few blocks from the stock exchange on the capital's main thoroughfare.

Monday's demonstrations appeared to be part of a Zapatista strategy to put pressure on the government to seek a peaceful, negotiated solution to the Chiapas conflict. Both sides have observed a cease-fire since 1995, but peace talks broke off in 1996 and are still in abeyance.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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