Mexico missing student protesters burn state buildings

Protest movement has hit Guerrero’s tourism industry, with vacationers canceling trips during busiest time of year

Demonstrators set fire to the local legislature building on Wednesday in the capital of the southwestern state of Guerrero in protests over the apparent massacre of 43 students by corrupt police and thugs from drug gangs.

Violent demonstrations rocked several other states, where protesters blocked an airport and damaged the local office of President Enrique Pena Nieto's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

In Guerrero's capital of Chilpancingo, members of a teachers union set fire to the session hall in the state assembly building while also torching several cars outside.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze and no injuries were reported. Protesters also set a fire at administrative offices of the state's education department.

Anger has intensified in Mexico since Attorney General Jesus Murillo said last week that evidence suggests 43 missing trainee teachers were murdered by gangsters, incinerated in a bonfire at a garbage dump and their ashes thrown in a river.

The students were abducted by corrupt police in September, Murillo said.

The protests have led to mass cancellations this week in the hotels of Acapulco, the famous beach resort and Guerrero's largest city, ahead of a long holiday weekend.

As Mexico prepares to commemorate its 1910 revolution Monday, hotels in the Pacific resort city have seen a wave of cancellations after demonstrators temporarily shut down the airport, blocked highways and attacked government and political offices in the southern state of Guerrero.

Acapulco hotel occupancy rates are currently at 20 percent, well short of the 85 percent expected for this long weekend when Mexicans typically flock to the beaches, Joaquin Badillo, president of the Employers' Association for Guerrero state, said Wednesday.

More cancellations have been registered for Christmas week, the busiest time of the year for Acapulco tourism, and Badillo said one company that operates 10 hotels has cut about 200 temporary jobs in recent weeks.

"Seasonal employment in tourism is really being hurt," Badillo said. "We're talking about cleaning workers, security, bartenders, barkers, transportation."

With violent breaking out between demonstrators and authorities, it remains unclear how long the state’s tourism industry will take a hit. On Tuesday, hundreds of protesters scuffled with riot police and burned PRI offices in Chilpancingo.

"God willing, this type of vandalism does not repeat itself, this is not the way," said resident Constantino Garcia. "I think that this is not what society hopes for when demanding justice."

Tens of thousands of Mexicans have taken to the streets in recent weeks in peaceful protests over the government's handling of the case of the missing students, which has become the biggest challenge yet to Pena Nieto.

The president is on a trip to China this week, which infuriated protesters and relatives of the students. They say he cares more about Mexico's business interests than trying to deal with the gang violence that has ravaged much of the country for years.

In neighboring Michoacan state, which has also been a focal point of drug gang violence, students blocked the main entrance to the state capital's airport, a state police spokesman said.

Local media also showed images of masked people, purportedly student teachers, looting trucks in the state of Oaxaca, while another group took over a toll booth station in the state of Chiapas and burned several cars.

Wire services

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