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Residents clash with police, hijack buses in Mexico's Tepito barrio

June 2, 2010 |  3:04 pm

Tepito riot police

Scores of residents in the tough Tepito neighborhood of downtown Mexico City clashed with riot police Tuesday night in a chaotic brawl sparked by unconfirmed reports of child kidnappings. The crowds, mostly young men and boys, many with their faces covered, threw stones and crude Molotov cocktails at police in several sections of the infamous barrio, as seen in this video at El Universal. (All links here in Spanish.)

Elsewhere in the area, a crowd of young people identified as being from Tepito stopped and carjacked an empty city tour bus. The bright red Turibus double-deckers, decorated with images of major landmarks in Mexico City, are fixtures in traveler-friendly districts of the capital. The hijacking mob rode around downtown, packed inside the double-decker, which was not carrying paid passengers, before police were able to take control of the vehicle and make dozens of arrests, as this video shows.

Two other municipal buses were also reported being taken over by crowds in Tepito. A total of 77 people -- 31 of them under 18 years of age -- were detained and still being processed on Wednesday, authorities said in a statement. As many as 700 police officers participated in the operations Tuesday night.

The confrontations began after Tepito residents blocked a major intersection in protest over what they say is a rash of kidnappings of toddlers and small children that is spreading fear through their neighborhood's choked streets. But the police say the initial case was based on a false report, and are now seeking to detain a father for possibly lying to authorities. On Wednesday afternoon, the daily Reforma reported that the mother of the supposedly abducted children confessed the story is untrue. The two toddlers are safe, police told the paper.

The residents of Tepito, however, remain convinced that kids are being snatched.

"The television says it's just been two, but it's 12 children who have been stolen, and they're not paying attention," one woman says in the first video linked above. "Oh, but they do come for their [police] operations, to make a mess."

Mexico City police said Wednesday that they would reinforce security at schools within Tepito as a precaution. On Twitter, Tepito residents and observers have been actively updating the story. One tweeted: "And I can tell you, about the kids, it's true. On the street where I live they took a kid and we still don't know anything of him."

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Mexico City police move into the Tepito neighborhood. Credit: El Universal