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MEXICO CITY, Jan 20 (Reuters) - A series of Oxxo convenience stores have been attacked in central Mexico, authorities said on Monday, a sign that strikes targeting businesses may be spreading nearer to the capital.
There were reports that as many as nine stores belonging to Mexico's largest convenience store chain, operated by Femsa , were attacked late on Sunday night, authorities in Hidalgo state and the state of Mexico said.
Femsa said three of its Oxxo stores were set on fire and two were attacked by gunmen. Some employees suffered burns but none were seriously hurt, Femsa said in a statement.
The company said it was investigating whether there is any connection between the gun attacks and the fires.
The State of Mexico surrounds most of Mexico City and borders Hidalgo to the north, and local state prosecutors said the attacks appeared coordinated, echoing recent assaults against businesses in the state of Michoacan in western Mexico.
Michoacan, which shares a border with the State of Mexico, has been shaken by fighting between a violent drug gang and heavily-armed vigilante groups, presenting a major security challenge to President Enrique Pena Nieto.
A Hidalgo state official said one store in Tula, just over an hour from Mexico City, was set on fire, apparently with Molotov cocktails. There was a similar incident at a store in Tizayuca, involving the same kind of homemade device, he said.
Five more stores were attacked in Hidalgo but it was not clear if similar devices were used there, the official said.
Two more attacks on Oxxo stores were reported in the State of Mexico, prosecutors said. Femsa confirmed those attacks.
Femsa runs Latin America's biggest Coke bottler, Coca-Cola Femsa, in a joint venture with The Coca-Cola Co. Oxxo sells Coke and other bottled drinks as well as snacks and cigarettes, among other items. Some of the stores are open 24 hours.
In Michoacan, large areas of which have been under the control of the Knights Templar drug cartel, a number of installations operated by Mexico's state-run electricity company were attacked in October, temporarily knocking out power for hundreds of thousands of people.
Two years ago in Michoacan, officials arrested members of the Knights Templar after a string of arson attacks on trucks distributing PepsiCo snack products that was apparently part of an extortion effort.