Clashes sparked by suspected cartel gunmen in northern Mexico have killed 20 people, putting more pressure on the country's president to curb gang violence after the United States vowed to label the gangs terrorists.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, mindful of efforts by US President Donald Trump to designate Mexican drug gangs as terrorist groups, repeated on Sunday he would not accept any intervention from abroad, while doubling down on his strategy of trying to contain the cartels.
But the killings clouded celebrations on Sunday marking Lopez Obrador's first year in office, which were buffeted by a march in Mexico City by thousands of people protesting the violence.
The government of the northern state of Coahuila said local security forces killed 14 gunmen on Saturday and Sunday after a major gunfight broke out in the small town of Villa Union near the Texas border.
Earlier, the state government had said police had shot dead 17 cartel members.
Four police were also killed in the shootouts, which broke out about noon on Saturday, sparking fresh criticism of the government's approach to handling the powerful gangs.
The bodies of two unarmed civilians apparently murdered by the gunmen were also recovered.
Riding into town in heavily armed pick-up trucks, gunmen sprayed the offices of the mayor of Villa Union with bullets and fought police for more than 1 1/2 hours as gunfire echoed through the streets.
More than 60 gunmen took part in the fight and 17 of their vehicles were seized, Coahuila's government said.
A number of the gunmen, who were suspected members of the Cartel of the Northeast from Tamaulipas state, were killed by state police in pursuit of the raiding party after it fled the town.
The events add to a series of recent security lapses that have raised questions about Lopez Obrador's policy.
During a speech to supporters on his first anniversary as president, Lopez Obrador again said Mexico would handle its security problems without outside help.
Criticism has focused on the November 4 massacre by suspected cartel gunmen of nine women and children from Mormon communities in northern Mexico, and the armed forces' release of a captured son of drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman in response to threats from his gang in the city of Culiacan.
Lopez Obrador defended the episode, saying Ovidio Guzman's release prevented unnecessary bloodshed.
Near the president's rally on Sunday, the protest march united opposition politicians with grieving members of the LeBaron family, who lost loved ones in the slaughter of the three mothers and six children in Sonora state.
"We're not against the president. We're against the security policies that have been used until now because they haven't worked," said Julian LeBaron, a relative of the victims.
© RAW 2019