MEXICO CITY – A Mexican court on Friday issued a house-arrest warrant for former President Luis Echeverria on charges of genocide in a 1968 student massacre, his attorney told The Associated Press.
Juan Velasquez said officials had not arrived at Echeverria's house to issue the warrant. He said his client was innocent because the deaths were not part of an extermination policy, and won't serve jail time because he's 84. A 2004 law designed to reduce costs in the criminal-justice system allows judges to grant house arrest for suspects 70 and older.
It is the first time a warrant has been issued against a former Mexican president.
Mexican Special Prosecutor Ignacio Carillo brought criminal charges against Echeverria for his alleged involvement in the killings of dozens of students in two separate Mexico City protests: in 1968, when he was Mexico's interior secretary, and in 1971, when he was president. But courts had blocked Echeverria's prosecution in both cases.
The special prosecutor's office declined comment Friday.
Echeverria has been briefly hospitalized twice in the past year and is considered to be in poor health.
Echeverria was interior secretary, a powerful position overseeing domestic security, when Mexican troops ambushed mostly peaceful student protesters at Mexico City's Tlatelolco Plaza on Oct. 2, 1968, just before the capital hosted the Olympics. Officially, 25 people were killed, though human rights activists say as many as 350 may have lost their lives.
Military reports reviewed by the special prosecutor show that 360 sharpshooters fired from buildings surrounding Tlatelolco Plaza. The attack is considered one of the darkest moments of modern Mexican history.
The president at the time, Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, died in 1979.
Echeverria is also accused of leading a ruthless crackdown against leftist activists when he served as president from 1970 to 1976.
In February, a leaked draft of a government report on Mexico's "dirty war" alleged the government ordered soldiers to torture, rape and execute people as part of a counterinsurgency campaign from 1960 to 1980. The government of President Vicente Fox said it did not endorse the draft, and would release a complete version later, but has not yet done so.
The unedited draft alleges the crimes were committed during the administrations of Echeverria and Diaz Ordaz, and Presidents Jose Lopez Portillo, in office from 1976 to 1982, and Adolfo Lopez Mateos, in office from 1958 to 1964.
The most brutal period occurred under Echeverria's rule, when military bases allegedly served as "concentration camps," and the government "implemented a genocide plan that was closely followed during his reign," according to the report. During that time, guerrillas were blamed for a series of kidnappings and attacks on soldiers.
Hundreds of suspected subversives in the southern state of Guerrero were killed or disappeared.
The report says investigators found evidence that under Echeverria's so-called "Friendship Operation," launched by the military in 1970 in Guerrero, the army conducted "illegal searches, arbitrary detentions, torture, the raping of women in the presence of their husbands, and the possible extrajudicial executions of groups of people."
Fox promised to prosecute Mexico's past crimes after his 2000 election victory that ended 71 years of rule by the iron-fisted Institutional Revolutionary Party. He and named special prosecutor Carillo shortly after taking office.
Mexicans vote Sunday for Fox's successor. Mexican presidents are limited to single six-year terms.