October 25, 2010 / 2:28 AM / 9 years ago

Mexicans mourn slain party-goers in drug war city

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (Reuters) - Families mourned on Sunday the victims of one of Mexico’s worst shootings, weeping over the open coffins of teenagers as young as 14 as Ciudad Juarez residents expressed outrage at surging violence.

Family members and friends mourn the deaths of brothers Sotero and Ismael Reyes Ricario during their wake in Ciudad Juarez October 24, 2010. REUTERS/Gael Gonzalez

Crowding around the bodies in white and gray coffins, parents and friends sobbed as they bid farewell to the 14 people killed at a family birthday party on Friday night in the Mexican city that is the epicenter of the country’s drug war.

“This can’t be happening. Today it’s them who are killed, and tomorrow who will be next?” said a sister of one of the victims, who gave only her first name, Miriam.

In Tijuana across the border from San Diego, California, suspected drug gang hitmen shot dead 13 people at a drug rehab clinic on Sunday, a member of the local police force said.

And in the northern state of Coahuila, two women and a teenage boy died on Sunday after being caught in crossfire during a shootout between unidentified gunmen, police and soldiers, state prosecutors said.

The shooting in Juarez on Friday was the second massacre at a party this month in the city across from El Paso, Texas. Ciudad Juarez has become one of the world’s most violent cities since drug cartels launched a turf war there in early 2008. Almost 7,000 people have been killed in the city since then.

Police in the state of Chihuahua where the shooting took place declined to say if there was any progress in the search for the gunmen. They were trying to identify the killers using artist impressions based on witness reports, a source in the prosecutors’ office said.

One father told newspaper El Diario the gunmen drove up to the house and asked about a local criminal. When those in the front patio said they didn’t know of him, the men started shooting. “Ah, you’re not going to talk? Give it to all of them,” they said, the paper quoted the father as saying.

UNRELENTING MURDERS

The killings put new pressure on President Felipe Calderon, who condemned the massacre but faces sharp criticism across Mexico that his war against the cartels in Ciudad Juarez has failed and may have even provoked more violence.

Calderon sent some 10,000 troops and federal police to Ciudad Juarez in 2008 to fight the cartels, but killings have surged since then and even a switch of security operations to federal police from the army has had little impact.

More than 200,000 people, mainly wealthy and middle-class residents, have fled the city of some 1.5 million people.

Once a poster child for free trade, with its factories exporting goods across the border, Ciudad Juarez has become the worst flashpoint in the drug war that Calderon launched in December 2006. Almost 30,000 people have died since then in drug violence across Mexico.

Mexican business leaders say U.S.-run factories are freezing investment in the city because of the violence, hurting its recovery from the 2008-2009 recession.

Calderon flew there on October 12 in a rare visit, offering more jobs and schools to stop youths from joining drug gangs.

But the city is proving to be the president’s toughest test and threatens to hurt wider public support for his drug war.

Additional reporting by Jason Lange and Miguel Angel Gutierrez in Mexico City, and by Lizbeth Diaz in Tijuana; Writing by Robin Emmott; Editing by Eric Beech

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