MEXICO CITY – Hundreds of thousands of Mexicans wearing white staged a silent march through the heart of their nation's capital Sunday to protest kidnappings, violent crimes and the failures of law enforcement to curb them.
The march was the largest here in recent history, completely filling Mexico City's central plaza and packing surrounding streets.
As protesters crossed the city, they did not chant or cheer but instead shared stories of how many people had been victims of violent crime.
Marchers wore black ribbons in memory of victims killed during kidnappings and robberies, with some wearing T-shirts or carrying signs with images of the dead.
"Let's give the death penalty to kidnappers and bring the army in to fight corrupt police," read a banner held aloft by Victor Miranda, a laborer from the poor neighborhood of Ixtacalco.
Miranda's nephew, Jorge Jose Contreras, disappeared June 8 and the family suspects he has been kidnapped, although no request for ransom has been made.
Clementina Gonzalez, 60, related how she was held up at gunpoint on a Mexico City street. When assailants tried to stuff her in a car, she fled and was shot in the leg.
"We have all been kidnapped by fear," Gonzalez said. "We cannot leave our houses. Our children cannot play in the street. If that's not kidnapping, what is?"
Mexico City businessman William Ritchey complained that his maid had been kidnapped.
"This is the kind of thing that happened in Colombia, and 15 years ago people started leaving Colombia just for this reason," he said.
Language professor Victoria Terreros, 32, recalled being held up at gunpoint with her parents outside a Mexico City church as they arrived for a wedding.
She said government corruption and a timid public share the blame for Mexico City's high crime rate.
"It's all of us for not applying more pressure like we're doing now," Terreros said.
The event was organized by business and citizens' groups. Marchers denied it was a political protest, countering accusations by leftist Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (search) that the demonstration was meant to discredit him.
Lopez Obrador, a potential president candidate in 2006, has sought to downplay the recent surge in public frustration over crime by noting that matters are worse elsewhere in Mexico and by downplaying new revelations about metropolitan crime.
Most Mexicans oppose the death penalty, but the march was sprinkled with signs demanding capital punishment for violent criminals.
In the days before the march, Mexican President Vicente Fox (search) put new pressure on Congress to approve his proposed reform of the nation's outdated, corrupt and inefficient justice system.
"We're not dealing with a program created by the powerful," Fox said Friday. "The government only is echoing civil society, articulating its demands."