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Narcos blockade Michoacan highways after bloody battle with feds

August 14, 2012

The Mexican government has deployed  600 federal police officers in Michoacan, where a fierce battle with members of the Knights Templar drug gang took place last Friday.

Five alleged Templars and at least four federal officers were killed in a raid that commenced around 4 p.m. in the town of Holanda, a suspected cartel stronghold in the mountainous Apatzingan region.

Police backed with Black Hawk helicopters exchanged fire with gang members heavily armed with fragmentation grenades, AK-47 and AR-15 assault rifles and high-power .50-caliber Barrett rifles. Investigators later recovered shell casings from over 500 rounds of ammunition and the remains of three grenades used by the Templars.

The Templar responded to the raid by torching at least 30 vehicles, including buses and police cars, to form “narcobloqueos” blocking the Lazaro Cardenas-Uruapan highway, three roads in Apatzingan and another in the municipality of Mugica.

Several wounded police officers were taken to the Mugica general hospital, but they came under fire again from another gang member waiting there to finish them off. A police vehicle and a private van were set alight in the ensuing chaos as the hospital was evacuated.

Armed Templars also carried out a wave of attacks on Saturday, burning five gas stations and several vehicles in southern areas of Guanajuato state.

A splinter group from Michoacan’s La Familia cartel, the Knights Templar gang emerged in 2011 and now controls much of the state and neighboring Guanajuato.

In response to the weekend’s violence, the federal government deployed additional federal police units to Apatzingan on Monday, equipped with 20 armored vehicles, 30 all-terrain SUVs and two more Black Hawk helicopters.

The Mexican Army has also established a checkpoint on the Siglo 21 highway outside Apatzingan with advanced tracking equipment to detect any explosives, weapons or suspects entering the municipality.

Located in the tropical Tierra Caliente region, Apatzingan is about 120 kilometers southwest of state capital Morelia. The Morelia bus terminal was closed for 16 hours following the narco-blocades on Friday, but buses have since resumed operations in all areas of Michoacan.

“La Tierra Caliente is a problem region,” said La Jornada editor Hector Mendieta, “but Michoacan is a big state.”

Mendieta drove to the popular tourist destinations of Morelia and Patzcuaro this week.

“The highway was very calm and I saw about six convoy of soldiers patrolling the road,” he noted. Despite the recent disturbances in other parts of the state, Mendieta believes these colonial cities are still safe places to visit.

“Everything was fine in Morelia, it did not feel unsafe at all,” he said, while “Patzcuaro was crowded with tourists from the United States, South America, Europe and Japan.”

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