Virus roadblock ends in shooting in southern Mexico

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Police in southern Mexico may face charges after they opened fire on townspeople protesting an anti-virus roadblock that activists say cut their community off from the outside world, prosecutors said Wednesday.

It was the one of the first instances of armed confrontation at the hundreds of roadblocks that have sprung up across Mexico to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.

Prosecutors in the southern state of Chiapas said in a statement that one man was seriously wounded when police from the town of Yajalon opened fire on protesters from the nearby township of Tumbalá on Sunday. The man was shot in the back and chest and is being treated at a hospital. Two vehicles were also damaged.

Prosecutors said the demonstrators had gathered at a health-services checkpoint leading into Yajalón and began throwing stones. Activists say the checkpoint, meant to reduce traffic, had cut parts of Tumbalá off from needed services, which are only available locally in Yajalón.

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Prosecutors said they would bring attempted murder charges against any public servants responsible for the shooting, and assault and gang charges against some demonstrators. Two police were slightly injured in the confrontation.

The Digna Ochoa Human Rights Committee said members of the Chol indigenous group of Tumbalá, particularly the hamlet of Hidalgo Joshil, had little access to needed services after surrounding communities put up roadblocks or checkpoints.

“The Chiapas government and health department provoked this series of events by setting up an illegal encirclement of the township of Tumbalá because of the COVID-19 outbreak,” the committee said. “Government offices, as well as the bank branch offices which the indigenous communities use, are in Yajalón, because there are no bank offices in Tumbalá.”

The checkpoints had allegedly blocked Tumbalá residents from entering other towns, apparently on the belief that Tumbalá had a higher infection rate.

On Tuesday, the Interior Department urged towns and states to stop putting up roadblocks and curfews to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

The department said such measures violate constitutional rights like the right to free movement, and argued that local governments don’t have the authority to enact them.

The department said in a report that almost 20% percent of Mexican municipal governments, about 340, have put up checkpoints or filters to limit people’s movements. Most were concentrated along the country’s coasts, where many beach towns have tried to exclude travelers.

Mexico has about 17,800 confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,732 deaths.

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