November 18, 2014 / 10:06 PM / 5 years ago

Mexico president sees anti-government motive in massacre protests

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Grappling with outrage over violence and impunity after the apparent massacre of 43 trainee teachers, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto on Tuesday accused unspecified groups of seeking to destabilize his government.

Protest marches over the crime, which the government has blamed on corrupt police in league with a drug gang and city officials, have overshadowed Pena Nieto’s efforts to boost years of sub-par economic growth via a raft of economic reforms.

The trainee teachers were abducted in late September by corrupt police working with a drug gang, and their remains were apparently incinerated.

Protests have yielded sporadic violence, with demonstrators setting fire to the doors of Pena Nieto’s ceremonial palace in central Mexico City, as well as torching or trashing regional government buildings and political party offices.

“Structural reforms and big changes have ... without doubt affected interests of those who have much and of others who oppose our nation-building project,” Pena Nieto said.

“We have seen violent movements which hide behind the grief (over the missing students) to stage protests, the aim of which at times is unclear,” he added. “They seem to obey interests to generate instability, to foment social unrest.”

Pena Nieto is also on the back foot after the government angered China by revoking a $3.75 billion high-speed train contract after opposition lawmakers claimed it was a stitch-up.

Compounding matters, it emerged that a Mexican group in the winning Chinese-led consortium owned a $7 million house that Pena Nieto’s wife was in the process of acquiring, raising questions about a possible conflict of interest in the bidding process.

Questions remain over the house. The government has not said how much first lady Angelica Rivera paid for it, nor why she was transferring funds directly to the firm that owned it.

As he set foot back in Mexico late on Saturday after a state visit to China, Pena Nieto was forced to address the house, saying he would clear up “imprecise and baseless assertions” on it. The government has yet do so.

On Tuesday, Pena Nieto said he had asked his wife to publicly explain how she came to acquire the property.

Reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez; Writing by Simon Gardner; Editing by Leslie Adler

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