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Mexico captures gang leader in missing students case

Protesters march in Acapulco, on October 17, 2014, to demand answers over the fate of 43 missing students
Protesters march in Acapulco, on October 17, 2014, to demand answers over the fate of 43 missing students Pedro Pardo / AFP

The leader of a criminal gang suspected of conspiring with Mexican police to kill 43 missing students in the violent southwestern state of Guerrero has been arrested, officials said Friday.

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Sidronio Casarrubias Salgado, the purported leader of the Guerreros Unidos drug gang, was captured Thursday on a highway leaving Mexico City, federal prosecutor Tomas Zeron said.

Casarrubias, the "maximum leader" of the gang, was arrested alongside "one of his closest operators", said Zeron.

Authorities say the Guerreros Unidos worked hand-in-hand with corrupt municipal officers in a night of violence in the city of Iguala on September 26 that left six people dead and the 43 students from a rural teachers college missing.

Iguala's officers shot at the students' buses and then handed them to their counterparts in the neighboring town of Cocula, who delivered them to the Guerreros Unidos, authorities say.

A total of 36 police officers along with 17 alleged members of the gang have already been arrested over the case.

Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said the arrest of Casarrubias would open a "new line of investigation that can quickly and more easily get us closer to the truth".

Casarrubias did not order the disappearances, but he knew about them and did not object, Murillo Karam said. The suspect told authorities he spent a total of $45,000 a month in payoffs to police in Iguala and the neighboring town of Cocula, the attorney general said.

Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca and his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, are being sought for their presumed involvement in the disappearances, Murillo Karam added.

Protesters demand answers

The mass disappearance has sparked international and national outrage, with protests held across Mexico last week. Thousands more took to the streets of the beach resort of Acapulco on Friday in a new demonstration to demand answers about the students’ fate.

Chanting "they took them alive, we want them back alive," protesters including students, teachers and machete-wielding farmers also called for the resignation of Guerrero Governor Angel Aguirre over his handling of the case.

"We are angry because this is not an isolated event. Many of us are parents and we see very ugly things in this country that we want to fight," said Magdalena Catalan, a 34-year-old teacher.

The government is combing the hills of southern Guerrero state with horseback patrols and has divers looking in lakes and reservoirs behind dams, but has yet to find the missing students.

Investigators are still analysing the contents of three more mass graves found near Iguala after declaring last week that 28 bodies in one pit did not belong to the students.

"We are enraged against the government. It's going to be a month (since the disappearance) and we have seen nothing," said a farmer gripping a machete.

The protest was peaceful, however, unlike a previous demonstration in Guerrero's capital on Monday that ended with students torching part of the state government's headquarters.

The students’ disappearance has undermined President Enrique Pena Nieto’s pledge to restore order to Mexico. Drug violence exploded during the rule of his predecessor, Felipe Calderon, and has claimed about 100,000 lives since 2007.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP, REUTERS)

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