Tens of thousands of teachers, activists and residents marched and blocked a major road in Mexico yesterday to protest at the disappearance of 43 students and demanding that they be found.
The protesters shut down the highway that links Mexico City with Acapulco, marching behind a banner asking “Who governs Guerrero?” – a reference to claims that police in the state working with organised crime were implicated in the disappearances in the city of Iguala.
“Whose hands are we in?” asked Rosa Ruth Rodriguez Mendiola, a housewife from the city of Atoyac who joined in the march in Chilpancingo.
Investigators still have no word on whether 28 charred bodies that were found in a mass grave last weekend included any of the missing students, who disappeared after two attacks allegedly involving Iguala police in which six people were killed and at least 25 wounded.
The students from the radical rural teachers college had gone to Iguala to solicit donations from passers-by.
They were meeting up to return home at about the same time as the mayor’s wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, was finishing a speech to local dignitaries in the town.
Javier Monroy, an activist for the families of the disappeared, suggested the attack could have been caused by local gang, Guerreros Unidos, which thought the students were going to disrupt the speech by Ms Pineda, whose relatives have ties to drug gangs, according to prosecutors.
However, federal attorney general Jesus Murillo Karam declined to speculate on any link between the speech and the violence.
He said: “I am not going to single out any hypothesis until I have confirmed which is the correct one.”
Iguala mayor José Luis Abarca is a fugitive, and officials have arrested 22 city police officers, and replaced them temporarily with a federal unit.
The whereabouts of the mayor’s wife are unknown.
In an interview on 29 September with Milenio Television, Mr Abarca said he had received reports from police that the students had been attacking and robbing people who had gone to the speech and dance.
“Don’t be provoked,” Mr Abarca said he told officers. “I don’t want any kind of violence. Leave them alone, they’re just passing through.”
He said he later received reports of confrontations in the city throughout the night.
Prosecutors have identified Ms Pineda’s late brother, Alberto Pineda, as a main lieutenant in the Beltran Leyva cartel.
He and another brother, Marco Pineda, were both on former president Felipe Calderon’s most-wanted list and were killed by rivals in 2009.
Another brother, Salomon Pineda, was released from prison last year and is believed to be the Iguala chief for Guerreros Unidos, an offshoot of the Beltran Leyva group, according to local media.
Mr Karam said there was no hard evidence until now of the couple’s involvement in criminality.
“We don’t investigate on the basis of kinship, but rather facts,” he said.
The chief prosecutor for Guerrero state, Inaky Blanco, said suspects had testified that as many as 30 members of the Iguala police force were also members of the Guerreros Unidos gang.