In Oaxaca city, protesting teachers set up an encampment in the city’s main square

According to officials in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, on Sunday, 19 June, six people were killed in violent clashes following police action during a protest by members of the Mexican teachers’ union, Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (CNTE). Fifty three civilians, 41 federal police agents and fourteen state police agents were also injured in the incident, said the authorities. According to Oaxaca’s Governor Gabino Cue, most of those who died were young people.  Isabel Garcia, a member of the CNTE’s political commission, said three people supporting the protests were killed. She provided no further details.

Police claim that Sunday’s demonstration was infiltrated by armed individuals who shot at officers and threw Molotov cocktails. The clashes took place in several municipalities in Oaxaca state and involved federal and state police. An unnamed state official claimed in an off-the-record statement that one state police officer was killed.

The clashes lasted hours in the municipality of San Pablo Huitzo, north of Oaxaca city. And clashes continued into Sunday evening in the outskirts of Oaxaca city, where protesters burned federal police installations.

During the previous week, union members blockaded streets, a shopping mall and train tracks in the western state of Michoacan. They forced some bus operators to cancel journeys to Oaxaca, a major tourist destination, and they blocked a highway on the Tehuantepec isthmus. In Oaxaca city itself, protesting teachers set up an encampment in the city’s main square.

According to a statement from Mexico’s federal government, reported on the website of the Guardian newspaper, the federal police who were trying to remove union blockades were unarmed. “The attacks with guns came from people outside the blockades who fired on the population and federal police,” said the statement. According to this statement, 21 federal agents were wounded, three of them by gunfire. Associated Press journalists claim to have seen riot police firing on protesters in the town of Asuncion Nochixtlán, where officials said the protests were strongest, and video footage shows at least one police officer firing a gun several times, though it is unclear if he is a federal or state agent.

The CNTE, which has a history of militancy, was protesting the arrest of its leader Rubén Núñez and seven others in recent weeks. The arrests followed earlier demonstrations against education reforms introduced by President Enrique Pena Nieto in 2013. The reforms include mandatory evaluation of teachers’ performance.

Núñez was arrested on 12 June on money laundering and corruption charges. The federal prosecutor, Gilberto Higuera, claims that Núñez “raised more than 24m pesos ($1.3m; £900,000) illegally between 2013 and 2015,” according to the BBC website. According to the allegations, the CNTE had organised an illegal financial network for the purposes of embezzlement and funding protests during a period when the union effectively controlled the payroll of Oaxaca’s teachers. However, the union believes Núñez was set up, and has described him as a “political prisoner” and a “hostage of the federal government”. Núñez’s deputy, Francisco Villalobos, was also arrested last week for allegedly stealing textbooks.

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Gary Herman

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