Clashes sparked by suspected cartel gunmen in a northern Mexican town killed 22 people this weekend, authorities said, putting more pressure on Mexico’s president to curb gang violence after the United States vowed to label the gangs terrorists.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, mindful of efforts by U.S. President Donald Trump to designate Mexican drug gangs as terrorist groups, repeated on Sunday that he would not accept any intervention from abroad, while doubling down on his strategy of trying to contain the cartels.
But the killings clouded celebrations marking Lopez Obrador’s first year in office, which were buffeted by a march in Mexico City by thousands of people protesting the violence.
The government of the northern state of Coahuila said local security forces killed 14 gunmen on Saturday and Sunday, after a major gunfight broke out in the small town of Villa Union near the Texas border. Earlier, the state government had said police had shot dead 17 cartel members.
Four police were also killed in the shootouts, which broke out around midday on Saturday, sparking fresh criticism of the government’s approach to handling the powerful gangs.
The bodies of two unarmed civilians apparently murdered by the gunmen were also recovered, the government said.
Riding into town in a convoy of heavily armed pickups, gunmen sprayed the offices of the mayor of Villa Union with bullets and fought police for more than 1 1/2 hours as gunfire echoed through the streets.
More than 60 gunmen took part in the fight and 17 of their vehicles were seized, Coahuila’s government said.
A number of the gunmen, who were suspected members of the Cartel of the Northeast from Tamaulipas state, were killed by state police in pursuit of the raiding party after it fled the town, authorities said.
The events in Villa Union add to a series of recent security lapses that have raised questions about Lopez Obrador’s policy.
During a speech in front of tens of thousands of supporters on his first anniversary as president, Lopez Obrador again said Mexico would handle its security problems, after Trump’s comments.