OAXACA, Mexico - Thousands of Mexican police firing tear gas fought a running battle with striking teachers in a southern city on Wednesday in the latest violence between protesters and security forces before July elections.
The teachers' union said two of its members and a child were killed when police forced the teachers out of the main square in the city of Oaxaca, but state Gov. Ulises Ruiz denied that on local radio.
Witnesses and press reports said shots were fired during clashes in downtown streets. One policeman was shot in the leg.
This incident, and others, have fanned tension in the run-up to the July 2 presidential vote, a close battle between leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and conservative Felipe Calderon.
Before dawn in colonial, highland Oaxaca, police on foot and in helicopters used tear gas to disperse teachers, who have occupied the city's main plaza and surrounding streets for three weeks to press their demand for higher wages. Oaxaca is the capital of the southern state of the same name.
"There are two dead, (and) we have a dead child who was asphyxiated inside the union building by tear gas fired by repressive forces since 3 a.m.," union spokesman Daniel Rosas told reporters. He denied official reports that the teachers carried high-powered weapons.
The 40,000 teachers vowed to continue the strike, and moved back into the central square later in the morning. By midday on Wednesday, downtown Oaxaca was a ghost town other than the teachers in the square, with shops shuttered and residents holed up inside their homes.
State officials said two police officers were being held hostage by teachers, and that the police were not armed. They have also called the strike illegal and unjustified.
The teachers have threatened to disrupt voting in Oaxaca for the presidential election. This week they blocked employee access to the state office of the Federal Electoral Institute.
Violence Breaks Out
Police put down riots in San Salvador de Atenco, a town near Mexico City, in May. Demonstrators, opposed to efforts to evict illegal flower vendors, had attacked and abducted police officers. Two protesters died in the crackdown.
Two steel workers were killed in April in battles with police sent in to break up a strike, part of a long and bitter work stoppage by miners and metal workers nationwide.
President Vicente Fox's spokesman Ruben Aguilar said the upheaval in Oaxaca, like the previous trouble, was not a sign of instability around the presidential vote.
"In no way does the government consider them hot spots or insoluble problems, much less do they put at risk the electoral process," he told reporters.
"We must resist, we are used to ... years of struggle and to the repressive government," Enrique Rueda Pacheco, head of the teachers' union, told local radio.
The teachers are at odds with Ruiz, a powerful member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party which ruled Mexico for most of the last century.