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Mexican government sets riot police on striking teachers

Brutal crackdown clears Zocalo square for president's independence day address

Mexico President Enrique Pena Nieto has led the Independence Day celebration in Mexico City's massive colonial-era square the Zocalo.

But he was only able to do so because his administration had turned thousands of riot police loose in the square on Friday night, sweeping hordes of striking teachers out with tear gas and water cannon.

The teachers have marched through the capital at least 15 times over the last two months in their fight to protect their jobs and rights from the president's reforms.

The confrontation erupted after the teachers armed themselves with metal pipes and blocked off the Zocalo with steel grates and plastic traffic dividers, threatening to scuttle the Independence Day gathering.

The teachers, many veterans of similar battles with police in poor southern states, vowed to not move from the square where they have camped out since last month.

Some of the teachers declared themselves ready to fight.

Others set up sewage-filled portable toilets in the path of police vehicles.

Shortly after 4pm, the police swarmed in, firing tear gas canisters and spraying water from armoured trucks.

Protesters hurled sticks and chunks of pavement broken from the streets around the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Templo Mayor and the National Palace.

But within a half hour, police had cleared the Zocalo and much of the surrounding historic centre of virtually all demonstrators.

"We're going to reorganise and go back," said one masked teacher. "It's not going to stay like this. The government isn't going to repress us."


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