Drug shootout mars religious festival in Mexico

GUADALAJARA Mexico (Reuters) - Suspected drug cartel gunmen attacked each other during annual religious celebrations in a small Mexican town, killing 11 people and wounding 22 others, local authorities said on Saturday.

The rival gangs shot machine guns into the packed central square of Tecalitlan late Friday night and wreaked havoc on the festival in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe, one of Mexico’s most cherished national and religious symbols.

“During the celebration, a group of subjects arrived in several vehicles to attack another group in the town plaza, sparking a battle,” a statement from the attorney general’s office in the central state of Jalisco said.

The gunmen also lobbed a grenade into the crowd.

The shootout sparked panic in the town, with people afraid to leave their houses and canceling plans to visit family on what is usually a festive holiday across the country, local radio reported.

Mexico’s spiraling war against powerful drug cartels escalated this week when security forces killed one of the leaders of the cult-like drug cartel La Familia based in Michoacan, which borders the state of Jalisco.

Tecalitlan is close to Apatzingan, where the worst violence flared in clashes to track down the drug lord.

Jalisco state is famous for traditional mariachi music and locals were enjoying a concert as part of several days of events for the Virgin, who is said to have appeared to a Mexican peasant in the 16th century. About 33,000 people have been killed in drug violence over the past four years across Mexico, worrying Washington and some investors who are freezing investment just as the country pulls out of a recession.

In 2008, drug gangs threw a grenade into a crowd celebrating Mexico’s independence day in Michoacan’s capital Morelia, killing eight people and wounding more than 100.

Reporting by Roman Ortega in Guadalajara and Mica Rosenberg in Mexico City; Editing by Stacey Joyce