February 17, 2009 / 7:44 PM / in 10 years

Mexicans protest army ops against drug gangs

MONTERREY, Mexico, Feb 17 (Reuters) - Hundreds of Mexicans blocked roads and bridges into the United States in a cartel-funded protest of army operations against drug gangs, police said on Tuesday.

About 300 protesters carried signs complaining about army operations in the northern city of Monterrey. Small groups also blocked bridges that connect the border city of Reynosa with Texas, police said.

Mexican media said two people died in a gunbattle in the city, but a civil protection official said the violence was not related to the protests.

"These protesters are residents, but there is a movement behind them," said Nuevo Leon state police chief Aldo Fasci in Monterrey, Mexico’s wealthiest city. Last week, Fasci said organized crime was paying people to protest against the army.

One woman at the protest who declined to be named told Reuters she came with a neighbor who had been paid to come.

The northern states of Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas, home to Monterrey and Reynosa, are the main trafficking routes into Texas for the powerful Gulf Cartel and its feared armed wing, the Zetas, who are notorious for beheading their enemies.

President Felipe Calderon has pledged to end the drug violence that killed 6,000 people across Mexico last year. He has sent 45,000 troops and federal police to seize weapons, narcotics and kingpins.

Government officials and anti-drug experts say the army is disrupting drug gang operations, but is failing to cleanse Mexico’s corrupt police forces that are working for the cartels. (Reporting by Gabriela Lopez and Robin Emmott)

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