Troops fire gas as migrants try to storm into Mexico

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Ciudad Hidalgo (Mexico) (AFP)

Hundreds of Central Americans from a new migrant caravan tried to storm into Mexico Monday by fording the river that divides the country from Guatemala, but National Guardsmen fired tear gas trying to force them back.

The Central Americans, from the so-called "2020 Caravan" of around 3,500 undocumented migrants, gathered on the Guatemalan side of the Suchiate River at dawn, demanding migration authorities let them continue their journey to the United States.

When authorities did not immediately respond, the migrants began wading across the river, which is shallow this time of year.

Mexican troops fired tear gas to force them back. Scores of migrants, many with cloths tied around their faces to protect them from the gas, pelted the military police guarding the river with large stones, as the latter sheltered behind riot shields.

An AFP correspondent said dozens of migrants made it through the security cordon, but the majority were forced back.

"Let us through! Put your hands on your hearts," shouted a Honduran migrant named Jorge, who was traveling with his wife and two young children.

"They're trying to trick us. They tell us to register (with the authorities), but then they deport us," said another migrant, Tania, who has been with the caravan since it formed last week in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, around 650 kilometers (400 miles) away.

"I'm asking Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to consider his conscience" and let the migrants through, he added.

But Lopez Obrador's government faces pressure to do just the opposite from President Donald Trump, who last year threatened to impose steep tariffs on Mexico if it did not do more to stop a surge of undocumented Central Americans arriving at the US-Mexican border.

- Mexico bows to Trump -

It is the first time Mexico has forcibly turned back a migrant caravan trying to ford the border river -- a marked change since the first massive caravan arrived in the country in October 2018.

That time, Mexico managed to contain thousands of migrants who tried to force their way across the official border bridge, but then did little stop them when they illegally swam or took rafts across the river below.

Since then, thousands of Central Americans have crossed Mexico toward the United States in caravans, fleeing chronic poverty and brutal gang violence.

Seeking safety in numbers against the dangers of the journey, many travel with small children in tow, often walking long distances in plastic shoes or flip-flops.

After Trump warned of an "invasion" and issued his tariff threat in May, the Mexican government deployed around 26,000 National Guardsmen to tighten its borders.

It has also allowed the United States to send more than 40,000 asylum-seekers back to Mexico while their cases are processed, under the so-called "Remain in Mexico" policy.

But Human Rights Watch accused Mexico of violating migrants' rights by failing to guarantee the security of those returned by the United States and detaining others in "inhumane conditions."