Military pomp for Mexico 200-year fiesta

Some 74,000 security forces have been deployed to police festivities.

Mexico City: Troops from 17 nations were to join a massive military parade in Mexico City on Thursday, in celebrations for the bicentenary of Mexico`s independence from Spain, amid an escalating drug war.

A USD 40 million spectacle of fireworks, rock concerts and parades kicked off the party in the capital late Wednesday, while some regions, hit by drug violence or flooding, scaled down their festivities.

Eight suspected drug gang members died in a clash with soldiers near the US border on Wednesday, said a justice official in Nuevo Leon state, as festivities began across the country.

The celebrations mark the 1810 uprising by rebel priest Miguel Hidalgo that led to the ousting of the Spanish by 1821.

They are combined with celebrations for the centennial of the 1910-1917 revolution, when heroes like Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa overthrew the dictatorship of Porfiro Diaz.

President Felipe Calderon was due to shout "El Grito" -- a reconstruction of Hidalgo`s battle cry -- for a second time this year, early Thursday at the original site in Dolores, Hidalgo, after a similar ceremony late Wednesday in the capital.

In response to the cry -- which is echoed by local leaders across the country -- Mexicans shout "Viva Mexico!" or "Long live Mexico!"

Troops from 17 countries, including China, Russia and the United States, were due to join Mexican military and police forces, for a beefed up traditional parade in the centre of the capital on Thursday.

Mexico`s security forces are under increasing scrutiny amid a military crackdown on organised crime, launched by Calderon in 2006, that has been matched by a severe spike in drug violence.

Some 28,000 people have died in drug-related violence in the past three and a half years, according to official figures, while drug gangs are now accused in car bombings, massacres of migrants and even a deadly grenade attack on independence day celebrations in the central city of Morelia two years ago.

This year Morelia was one of several violence-plagued cities with toned down or cancelled bicentennial ceremonies.

Some 74,000 security forces were deployed across the country, including snipers on Mexico City rooftops, to police the festivities, officials said.

Meanwhile, a bicentennial monument and park are still unfinished and have increased criticism of the government`s focus on flashy bicentennial projects, costing tens of millions of dollars, rather than on pressing issues such as poverty.

A slow recovery from the economic crisis and the worst rainy season on record, which has affected up to one million people this month alone, has increased scrutiny of government spending.

Thousands in the southeast took part in scaled back festivities outside their flooded homes, as Tropical storm Karl brought more rain to the Yucatan Peninsula on Wednesday.

Bureau Report