Protesting Women Armed With Spoons Surround Mexican TV Station

About 500 women armed with kitchen spoons surrounded a state-run television station in Oaxaca on Tuesday, trapping 60 employees inside.

The protesters demanded to broadcast a live message calling for the resignation of Gov. Ulises Ruiz, whom they accuse of rigging his 2004 election victory and of violently repressing opposition groups.

Police were nowhere to be seen near the station on the outskirts of Oaxaca, and it was unclear how long the siege would last.

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Station director Mercedes Rojas said she didn't know whether state authorities would meet their demand. But she did say the state had filed a criminal compliant against the protesters with the federal attorney general's office, noting that the station, Channel 9, has about $54.5 million worth of equipment inside, and that the protesters had threatened the 60 employees with violence.

The standoff is the latest in a wave of confrontations related to the teacher's strike that has driven most tourists out of this southern Mexican colonial city. Tensions have been on the rise since June, when state police attacked a demonstration of striking teachers who occupied the historic central plaza, demanding a wage increase.

Since then, thousands of teachers, unionists and leftists have camped out in the plaza, spray-painting buildings with revolutionary slogans, smashing hotel windows and building makeshift barricades.

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The protesters also were victims of violence when at least 10 masked assailants shot out the windows of Oaxaca's university radio station, which supports the protests.

The unrest has paralyzed one of Mexico's top cultural tourist attractions, where visitors normally browse traditional markets for Indian handicrafts, hike ancient pyramids and stroll along cobblestone streets to sample mole dishes. Officials recently canceled a prominent cultural festival because of fears that violence could injure tourists and residents.

Tourism is down by 75 percent, costing the city more than US$45 million, according to the Mexican Employers Federation. Business leaders have asked the federal government to intervene, but aides to President Vicente Fox, who represents the National Action Party, have said the problem must be resolved at the state level.

Ruiz belongs to the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which has governed the state since 1929.