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Mexican Airport Stand-Off Continues

Mexican peasant farmers protesting against the construction of a new airport on their farmland have warned they will resist any police efforts to free the 12 hostages they have taken captive.
AFP Photo: The farmers do not want to be forced from their lands

The farmers, who seized the hostages on Thursday after police broke up a protest march, have barricaded themselves inside the town of San Salvador Atenco, close to the site of the proposed airport.

Some of the farmers have threatened to kill the hostages - who include government officials and police officers - unless the protest leaders arrested on Thursday are released. Hundreds of riot police are now surrounding the town, which is 30km (19 miles) outside Mexico City.

- Detained hostages

Wearing ski masks and carrying machetes, about 1,000 farmers demanded the release of fellow prisoners detained during Thursday's march. They threatened to tie the hostages, including a deputy state prosecutor and police officers, to hijacked gasoline tanker trucks and set them on fire.

How far will we go?" farm leader David Pajaro asked residents, to which they shouted back: "To the death!"

But Mr Pajaro also said he would keep a promise to free all the hostages if police released the rest of the detained protesters. "If that is done, we will lift the blockades and go back to the way we were, everybody in peace," he said.

- New airport

Mexico City's existing airport, a 91-year-old facility on the eastern edge of the capital, only has one runway which can be used at a time. President Vicente Fox's government has approved plans to build a six-runway, $2.3bn airport that will wipe out most of San Salvador Atenco and other surrounding communities.

Residents have been protesting for months at the government threat to expropriate their lands for the 11,000-acre (4450 hectares) project. A government order entitles residents to as little as 70 cents per square metre of land, a price they say is ridiculously low. But many residents are opposed the airport regardless of what they are offered.

The standoff began on Thursday when dozens of farmers blocked a highway near Santa Catarina, 25 miles (40 km) northeast of Mexico City. Several people were injured, including a police officer who was stabbed, as protesters and police clashed and the situation became violent.

But government officials have made it clear that they are not prepared to negotiate with the demonstrators, and their patience is starting to wear thin. "Tolerance and prudence have their limits. They have committed crimes, they have kidnapped people," said Manuel Cadena, Interior Minister for Mexico State.



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