Mexico gas protests marred by looting, death

Update: January, 06/2017 - 11:00

MEXICO CITY — More looting and protests against a gasoline price increase erupted in Mexico on Thursday, a day after an officer was killed and hundreds of people were arrested.

Demonstrators blocked highways and service stations again as protests continued for a fifth day since the government hiked gasoline prices by 20.1 per cent on January 1.

On Wednesday, looting took place in several parts of the country, as people left stores with televisions, toys and clothes, and more thefts were seen on Thursday.

Business leaders said some 1,000 shops and companies had been looted or vandalized while several stores closed out of fear of being next.

Police have arrested more than 430 people in Mexico state, 106 in the capital Mexico City, and 135 in the eastern state of Veracruz.

Riot police dispersed a small protest with tear gas in the northern state of Coahuila on Thursday while 100 people marched in Mexico City.

"I have grandchildren and I would be ashamed to know that I did nothing" against the price increase, said Emma Cabrera Albarran, a 58-year-old shopkeeper at the Mexico City protest.

A police officer died in Mexico City on Wednesday after he was hit by a car while preventing a theft at a service station, the city police department said.

Five other officers were injured elsewhere in Mexico City.

President understands ’anger’

Pena Nieto defended the price increase, saying it was necessary due to a rise in global oil prices.

"I understand the irritation and anger among the population in general," he said Wednesday, arguing that keeping the prices at the same level would have been more painful for the economy.

Pena Nieto enacted a sweeping energy reform in 2014 that ended the monopoly held by state firm Pemex, inviting private firms to drill for oil and natural gas as well as own service stations for the first time in decades.

The hike was imposed as the government prepares to stop fuel subsidies and let the market dictate gasoline prices from March.

But the steep increase shocked Mexicans in a country where nearly half the population lives in poverty.

’Out of control’

The national confederation of chambers of commerce, CONCANACO, estimated that between 700 and 800 small and medium-sized companies had been vandalized nationwide.

Separately, the National Association of Self-Service and Department Stores reported looting at nearly 250 shops in the capital and six other states.

"It’s out of control," association executive Manuel Cardona told Radio Formula. He called on federal forces to intervene, including the army if necessary.

Rafael Mondragon, president of the Mexican Pawnbroker Service Companies, said 32 pawnshops were ransacked, with people using tools to break windows.

"It’s an unimaginable situation, unpredictable, like the apocalypse," he told Milenio television.

Dozens of people stormed a supermarket in the central city of Puebla, leaving with televisions, toys and king cake, which is eaten during the Catholic feast of Epiphany, which falls this year on Friday.

In the suburb of Ecatepec, AFP reporters saw looters flee an Oxxo convenience store as police arrived. Five other stores had signs of break-ins, with their windows broken.

In the mega-capital of 21 million people, some 20,000 small stores had closed on Wednesday and some streets were unusually empty over fears that looting could spread.

The store closures cost the businesses $2.4 million, said Humberto Lazcano, president of the local chamber of commerce.

City officials said the situation had calmed down on Thursday. — AFP