Global General

Drug hitmen kidnap Mexican mayor near US border

Updated: 2010-08-17 06:13
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MONTERREY, Mexico - Suspected drug hitmen have abducted the mayor of a tourist town near Mexico's northern city of Monterrey in the latest surge in drug violence threatening to undermine industry and scare off investors.

Gunmen with automatic weapons burst into Mayor Edelmiro Cavazos' home on Sunday in Santiago, a colonial-era town that is a popular weekend destination for residents of nearby Monterrey, police and officials said.

Drug hitmen kidnap Mexican mayor near US border
Edelmiro Cavazos, mayor of the tourist town of Santiago smiles during a visit to Monterrey, in this February 24, 2010 file photo. [Agencies]

"He was led out of his house by armed men. He wasn't beaten, he wasn't hand-cuffed or tied up," Alejandro Garza, attorney general of Nuevo Leon state, which includes Monterrey and Santiago, told a news conference.

Nuevo Leon Governor Rodrigo Medina said Cavazos was probably targeted for his efforts to clean up Santiago's corrupt police force. The mayor's family has not received any ransom demands.

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The abduction follows a spike in violence over the weekend in northern Mexico, where rival gangs are battling for control of lucrative drug smuggling routes into the United States.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon has been defending his crackdown on drugs at home and abroad  as the death toll in his 3-1/2-year campaign surpassed 28,000 people and cartels have ratcheted up attacks against police and public officials.

"What is happening in reality is that we are imposing order where there was none. So if you see dust, it is because we are cleaning the house," Calderon wrote in an op-ed in the French newspaper Le Monde on Monday.

Yet there are few signs the cartels are ready to back down.

Over the weekend, drug gangs set up over 40 roadblocks in Monterrey, parking trucks, cars and even an ambulance across roads in a bid to derail army anti-drug operations.

Assailants also threw grenades at offices of Televisa, Mexico's biggest broadcaster in Monterrey and in Tamaulipas state to the east. No major injuries were reported.

Since the beginning of the year, Monterrey and nearby towns like Santiago have been sucked into a bloody turf war between the Gulf cartel and a spinoff group called Zetas.

The surge in violence in Monterrey, Mexico's most affluent city and home to some of the country's biggest companies such as global cement maker Cemex, is a major worry as foreign companies question the safety of doing business there.

Calderon continues to enjoy support for his drive among the majority of Mexicans and from the United States, which is pouring over $1 billion into helping Mexico fight drugs.