April 16, 2014 / 3:06 PM / 5 years ago

Mexico state arrests mayor suspected of links to drug gang

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican prosecutors have arrested the mayor of a town in the troubled western state of Michoacán on suspicion of collaborating with a violent drug gang.

The state government of Michoacán said in a statement it had detained Uriel Chavez, the mayor of Apatzingán, a city that has been a major stronghold of the Knights Templar.

Michoacán state prosecutors said Chavez had aided suspected members of the drug gang in extorting members of the city council to the tune of 20,000 pesos ($1,500) monthly to help the gang purchase weapons.

Chavez could not immediately be reached for comment.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto pledged to restore order when he took office in December 2012. But Mexico has been racked by drug-related violence in recent years. All told, more than 85,000 people have died in killings linked to drug gang violence since the end of 2006.

The Knights Templar has openly defied the government in Michoacán, and at the start of this year, federal forces began working with local vigilante groups in an effort to crush the cartel.

Since then, the government has killed or captured most of the senior leadership of the Knights Templar, though the face of the gang, Servando Gomez, remains at large.

The Knights emerged from a split in another cartel in Michoacán, known as La Familia, and have controlled large swaths of the restive mountainous state in recent years, extorting farmers and local businesses and even diversifying away from drug trafficking to industries such as mining.

($1 = 13.0983 Mexican pesos)

Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz, editing by G Crosse

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