August 30, 2011 in Nation/World

Acapulco officials say threats close 140 schools

Hundreds of teachers fear extortion, kidnappings
Adriana Gomez Licon Associated Press
 
Five arrested in casino fire

MONTERREY, Mexico – Police in northern Mexico have arrested five alleged members of the Zetas drug cartel suspected of setting a casino fire that killed 52 people, authorities said Monday.

Nuevo Leon state Gov. Rodrigo Medina said police were looking for two other suspects.

The five detained men, ages 18 to 37, confessed to participating in the attack Thursday at the Casino Royale and of belonging to the Zetas drug cartel, the governor said, and some had been arrested before for kidnapping or extortion.

Police are investigating whether the attack in Monterrey was in retaliation for not paying extortion.

MEXICO CITY – Only one week into the school year, 140 elementary schools in the Pacific resort city of Acapulco closed Monday after teachers refused to show up for fear of extortion threats and kidnappings by drug gangs.

About 600 teachers in the slums on Acapulco’s mountainsides said they were intimidated by recent cases of extortion and abduction, said Julio Bernal, schools delegate for the southern Mexican state of Guerrero. Bernal said 140 of about 1,400 schools in Acapulco didn’t open.

Two teachers said at least four of their peers had been kidnapped on the outskirts of Acapulco in the past eight days. The teachers agreed to discuss the situation only if their names were not used, saying they feared for their safety.

One of the teachers, who works at an elementary school, said she had seen men drive by the school with rifles sticking out vehicle windows. She said fellow teachers had received extortion threats demanding they give half of their salaries or face attack.

The second teacher said dozens of his peers have asked the government to assign more police officers to schools of six subdivisions but that their plight has been ignored.

“Authorities are turning a deaf ear,” he said.

Guerrero state police chief Ramon Almonte, who is in charge of school safety, didn’t return calls seeking comment. But Almonte previously told reporters that no teacher had reported abductions to police in recent days.

Schools in the region have been caught in the middle of a vicious turf war between drug gangs.

Teachers and school administrators in Ciudad Juarez, a border city across from El Paso, Texas, have also reported receiving threats and extortion demands in the past. Last week, gunmen attacked a group of parents waiting for their children outside an elementary school in Juarez, wounding one man and four women.

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