Mexico City: Thousands of striking teachers seized control of the historic heart of Mexico City, blockading the Zocalo plaza armed with metal pipes and wooden clubs as riot police flooded the area for what could be an ugly confrontation culminating weeks of protests against an education reform.
The teachers yesterday used steel grates and plastic traffic dividers to block the streets leading into the Zocalo, home to the Metropolitan Cathedral, Templo Mayor and National Palace, some of the city`s best-known tourist attractions. Hundreds of Mexico City and federal riot police massed on the other sides of the barriers.
Mexico`s government has promised that Independence Day celebrations, including the traditional presidential shout of independence from a balcony overlooking the square, will take place there tomorrow and Monday. The teachers, many veterans of battles with police in the poor southern states where they live, are promising not to move from the square where they have camped out for weeks, launching a string of disruptive marches around the city.
Manuel Mondragon, the head of the federal police, warned on national television that police would move in at 4 pm local time. One of the heads of the teachers` union organising the protests said organisers were still deciding what to do, but protesters on the street said they were preparing for battle.
"We`re ready for whatever happens," said Jesus Sanchez, a teacher from the southern state of Oaxaca, where he battled police during a months-long clash between authorities and striking teachers and their backers in 2006. "The Zocalo is for the people, it`s not just for a few."
The teachers have disrupted the center of one of the world`s largest cities at least 15 times over the last two months, decrying a plan that aims to break union control of Mexico`s dysfunctional education system.
President Enrique Pena Nieto dashed the teachers` hopes of blocking the overhaul when he signed the new system into law Tuesday. On Wednesday, the protests began turning violent, as protesting teachers scuffled with riot police after officers set up a line to keep protesters from blocking one of the city`s main expressways. City officials reported 15 police hurt as protesters seized some plastic riot shields from officers.