Mexico defends drug crackdown ahead of protest

Agence France-Presse

Posted at May 05 2011 03:24 PM | Updated as of May 05 2011 11:24 PM

MEXICO CITY, Mexico - President Felipe Calderon called on Mexicans to support a bloody four-year-old military crackdown on drug cartels on the eve of a silent march for peace planned for Thursday.

"Your understanding and your support, support from the entire society, is essential. Because some people, in good or bad faith, are trying to stop the government's action," he said late Wednesday in a televised message.

"There is no option to withdraw from the fight. On the contrary, we must redouble our efforts, because if we stop fighting they will kidnap, rob and kill all over the country," Calderon said.

Nearly 35,000 people have been killed in a massive spike in drug-related violence since the military operation began in December 2006, mostly in shoot-outs between rival cartels.

The address came the day before citizens protesting the crackdown were to depart from the city of Cuernavaca, 90 kilometers (56 miles) south of Mexico City, in a silent march set to reach the capital over the weekend.

Smaller demonstrations were planned in 38 other cities.

The protests were called by the poet and journalist Javier Sicilia, whose son was found dead in a car with six other people near Cuernavaca, a popular weekend retreat, on March 27.

All had been asphyxiated and their bodies bore signs of torture.

Calderon said the crime had "shocked the conscience of the society."

He also condemned the killing of 183 people whose bodies were found in 40 mass graves in the northeastern Tamaulipas state in April, saying they were "good Mexicans" who "only wanted a better future for their families."

Police have arrested 74 people in the probe over the mass graves, including several local Zetas drug gang leaders and 17 police officers from the San Fernando municipality, where the bodies were found.