Mexican National Guard expands into capital to address crime surge

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico’s new militarized National Guard police force will expand to the capital Mexico City in an effort to tackle a deteriorating security situation, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Thursday.

“We need a stronger presence of security forces and more protection for residents of the capital,” Lopez Obrador said in his daily news conference.

He pointed to a crime surge in Mexico City, where homicides, kidnapping and extortion have increased as drug cartels fight for control of areas of the city, one of the world’s largest.

The sprawling urban area that has a population over 21 million was for years a bastion of relative calm while much of the country slid into violent drug wars.

It is still less deadly than some U.S. cities, including St. Louis, Baltimore and Detroit, according to U.S. and Mexican national crime statistics. But in recent years the drug violence in other parts of Mexico has crept into the capital.

Lopez Obrador said that the National Guard, whose green uniforms, helmets and rifles give them the appearance of soldiers, had not initially been planned for Mexico City but that its persistent insecurity needed to be addressed.

“(Mexico City) is notorious, crime is on the rise. Especially the daily homicide rate, which has gone from two to six in the past decade,” Lopez Obrador said.

The National Guard, made up mostly of former members of the army police, naval police and federal police, operates across the country and was recently deployed on the borders to slow illegal migration through Mexico to the United States.

Lopez Obrador introduced the force this spring to restore public safety. He said on Thursday that the force will start at 70,000 members and expand to between 130,000 and 140,000.

Reporting by Rebekah F Ward; Editing by Alistair Bell