Mexican president defends 10-foot barriers to wall off women protesters

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Saturday said a metallic barrier to wall off the presidential palace ahead of a planned women’s march on International Women’s Day was to avoid provocation and protect historic buildings from vandalism.

FILE PHOTO: People walk past fences placed outside the National Palace ahead of expected violence in a Women's Day protest, in Mexico City, Mexico March 5, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

In a country where femicides rose nearly 130% between 2015 and 2020, critics said the decision to erect the 10-foot-high (3-meter) barriers was symptomatic of Lopez Obrador’s apathy toward the crisis of violence afflicting women.

Ahead of International Women’s Day on Monday, barriers were also installed around other emblematic buildings and monuments in downtown Mexico City where a year ago tens of thousands of people protested rampant violence against women and impunity.

“We have to avoid provocation of people who only want to cause damage,” Lopez Obrador said at an event in Yucatan. “Imagine, if we don’t take care of the national palace and they vandalize it. What image will this send to the world?”

Lopez Obrador reiterated that women had the right to protest and cited his own movement in 2006 as an appropriate form of peaceful protest.

“The presidency was stolen from us ... and we protested but never broke glass. ... I walked two, three times all the way from Tabasco to Mexico City,” he said. Lopez Obrador has repeatedly accused opponents of electoral fraud over the years.

At least 939 women were victims of femicide last year in Mexico, official data shows.

Interior Minister Olga Sanchez Cordero said on Twitter that the barriers were “for the protection of the women.”

Anger among women was stoked this year after Felix Salgado, who has been accused of rape, announced his candidacy for governor for the southern state of Guerrero.

A representative for Salgado did not reply to repeated requests for comment; media reported that he has denied the allegations.

Lopez Obrador has said that those calling on him to drop support for Salgado, a member of the ruling Morena party, are politically motivated.

Reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher and Adriana Barrera; Editing by Leslie Adler