MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - More than 150,000 Mexicans dressed in white marched on Saturday to protest a wave of kidnappings and gruesome murders, putting pressure on President Felipe Calderon to meet his promises to crack down on crime.
Demonstrators filled the capital’s historic Zocalo Square, holding candles and pictures of kidnap victims and bearing signs that read, “Enough Is Enough”.
People marched in cities throughout the country, including along the U.S.-Mexico border where increasingly brazen drug gangs are battling each other for control of smuggling routes. More than 2,300 people have been killed in drug murders this year.
Long used to violent crime, Mexicans were nevertheless outraged by the kidnapping and murder of Fernando Marti, 14, whose body was found in a car trunk in Mexico City on August 1, even though his businessman father had paid a ransom.
“We are prisoners in our own homes,” said Maricarmen Alcocer, 40, a housewife.
Mexico is one of the worst countries in the world for abductions, along with conflict zones like Iraq and Colombia.
Protester Manuel Ramirez, 50, who has not seen his daughter Monica since she was kidnapped in 2004, complained that criminals were becoming bolder.
“They are more bloodthirsty, they make their victims disappear, they mutilate them, they cut their ears off just as in the case of my daughter. We do not know where she is,” Ramirez said.
Kidnappings jumped almost 40 percent between 2004 and 2007, according to official statistics. Police say there were 751 kidnappings in Mexico last year, but independent crime research institute ICESI says the real number could be above 7,000.
Calderon, Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard and state governors held an emergency crime summit last week and vowed to stamp out abductions and violent crime.
Most crimes in Mexico go unsolved, with corrupt police and justice officials often complicating investigations. Several policemen were arrested for Marti’s kidnapping.
Drug violence has also exploded in the past three years as Mexico’s most-wanted man, escaped convict Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman, takes on the Gulf cartel and other gangs for control of the drug trade.
Eleven headless bodies were dumped in a small town in the Yucatan peninsula on Thursday and another decapitated corpse was found nearby. Police suspect the Gulf cartel, and Mexican media say the victims were likely alive when their heads were cut off.
Calderon sent 25,000 troops and federal police against the drug cartels after he took office in December 2006, but killings have increased.
While much of the drug violence is between rival smugglers and does not affect ordinary Mexicans, kidnappings and robberies at gunpoint are common threats.
Protesters were angry at both Calderon and Ebrard, a possible leftist presidential candidate in 2012.
“The message is: Get to work or we’ll hold you accountable. We’re angry,” said Eduardo Gallo, an accountant whose 25-year-old daughter was kidnapped in 2000 and murdered.
Hundreds of thousands of people held a similar anti-crime march in Mexico City in 2004.
Editing by Peter Cooney