May 15, 2010 / 8:39 PM / 9 years ago

Key Mexican ruling party politician feared dead

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A major figure in Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s conservative party was missing and feared dead on Saturday after his abandoned car was found with signs of violence, the attorney general’s office said.

Conservative Presidential Candidate of National Action Party (PAN) Diego Fernandez de Cevallos makes a point during an address to his supporters at a rally, formally closing his campaign in Mexico City August 13

Diego Fernandez de Cevallos, 69, an outspoken lawyer who was a presidential candidate for Calderon’s National Action Party, or PAN, in the 1990s and has been an influential lawmaker, disappeared late on Friday, local officials said.

His car was discovered near his ranch in the central state of Queretaro with some of his personal belongings inside and blood on a pair of scissors thrown on the ground nearby, Queretaro state public prosecutor Arsenio Duran told local radio.

Some Mexican media reported that Fernandez de Cevallos, often dubbed “Jefe Diego” (Chief Diego) in Mexico, was dead but federal and local officials could not confirm that.

Known for his cigar chomping and fiery style, Fernandez de Cevallos has been a key figure in the PAN both before and since it came to power for the first time in 2000, ending seven decades of one-party rule in Mexico.

Calderon lamented his disappearance, calling him a “key politician in Mexico’s democratic transition.”

Fernandez de Cevallos lost the 1994 presidential election to the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which clung onto power for one more term. During the race he aggressively attacked the PRI for its all-controlling grip on power.

Calderon, headed to Madrid and Washington for official visits, called Fernandez de Cevallos’ son personally to say the government was doing everything possible to locate him.

KIDNAPPING COMMON

Kidnapping of corporate executives, public officials and ordinary citizens is rife in Mexico, which is in the grip of a deadly fight against drug traffickers and organized crime gangs. Drug gang violence has killed some 23,000 people since Calderon’s term began in December 2006.

Officials did not say if drug gangs were involved in Fernandez de Cevallos’ disappearance.

Separately on Saturday, gunmen burst into a bar in the northern city of Torreon in the early hours of the morning killing at least six people and wounding a dozen others. Local officials said the victims had no known links to drug gangs.

Calderon’s strategy of deploying thousands of soldiers and federal police to crush drug gangs has failed to curb cartel violence, and escalating turf wars have created spiraling bloodshed, particularly near the U.S. border.

The president defended his clampdown in an interview with Reuters on Thursday.

A handful of local politicians, gearing up for elections in several states, have been killed in recent weeks. A recent spate of abductions in Mexico’s oil industry has also rattled that industry.

Additional reporting by Adriana Barrera; Editing by Catherine Bremer and Sandra Maler

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