World News

Gunmen kill Mexican mayor near Monterrey

MONTERREY, Mexico (Reuters) - Suspected drug hitmen killed the mayor of a town outside Mexico’s northern business city of Monterrey on Thursday, the fourth public official slain in little over a month, police said.

Mayor Prisciliano Rodriguez was shot and killed by gunmen as he drove to his ranch in his town of Doctor Gonzalez, 30 miles east of Monterrey in Nuevo Leon state, an official at the attorney general’s office said.

It was not immediately clear why Rodriguez, who won the mayorship last year for the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, was targeted, but Nuevo Leon and the neighboring state of Tamaulipas have become major drug war flashpoints since the start of the year.

Another person traveling with Rodriguez was also killed in the attack, Reforma newspaper reported, but police declined to comment.

Last month, drug gangs killed a mayor in the Nuevo Leon tourist town of Santiago and another mayor in the Tamaulipas municipality of Hidalgo that lies on a highway to Monterrey.

Another mayor was killed by suspected drug gangs in the central Mexican state of San Luis Potosi this month.

President Felipe Calderon, who has staked his presidency on a military-led assault on drug cartels, condemned the two killings in August and has vowed to continue his fight, saying that spiraling violence is a sign that the gangs are desperate and in disarray.

Rival hitmen from the Gulf cartel and its former armed wing, the Zetas, are fighting over smuggling routes into the United States. Both gangs increasingly target public officials, police and journalists who stand in their way.

Calderon has blamed the surge in violence around Monterrey and in Tamaulipas on the split between the Gulf and Zetas gang, but faces increasing pressure to calm the killings. More than 29,000 people have been killed in drug violence since Calderon sent more than 45,000 troops and federal police across Mexico in 2006 to battle warring drug gangs, prompting fears that bloodshed could undermine tourism and investment as Mexico slowly recovers from its worst recession since 1932.

The U.S. government in August told staff at its consulate in Monterrey to send their children out of the city, once considered one of Latin America’s safest cities and a top regional business center. There have been more than 450 drug killings in Monterrey and Nuevo Leon state this year.

Reporting by Tomas Bravo; editing by Mohammad Zargham