By ADRIANA GOMEZ LICON
MEXICO CITY — Mexican riot police have cracked down on the strongest challenge yet to President Enrique Pena Nieto’s reform program, sweeping thousands of striking teachers out of Mexico City’s main square with tear gas and water cannons.
Workers moved swiftly late Friday to demolish the half-burnt protest camp where striking teachers had camped out for weeks in a bid to block Pena Nieto’s education reforms, which are aimed at introducing teacher evaluations and reducing union discretion in hiring.
But while Pena Nieto can now use the vast main square known as the Zocalo to hold the country’s traditional Independence Day celebration today, it’s unknown whether the crackdown will heighten opposition to his energy and tax reforms.
Moving against the striking teachers may have set the tone for any future protests of Pena Nieto’s proposals for a steep tax hike and profits-sharing contracts for private companies in the state-owned oil industry. Both the tax and oil proposals have drawn howls of opposition.
Friday’s massive raid by thousands of police against the teachers was a dramatic reassertion of state authority after weeks of defiance.
Authorities did not immediately report any injuries.
Federal police chief Manuel Mondragon said 31 demonstrators were arrested, none of them teachers.
There had been mounting pressure to clear out the teachers before the first Independence Day celebration Sunday night, followed by a military parade Monday.
The confrontation erupted after the teachers armed themselves with metal pipes and blocked off the Zocalo with steel grates and plastic traffic dividers, threatening to scuttle the Independence Day gathering.
The teachers, many veterans of similar battles with police in poor southern states, vowed to not move from the square where they have camped out since last month.
Shortly after 4 p.m., the police swarmed in, firing tear gas canisters and spraying water from armored trucks. Protesters hurled sticks and chunks of pavement broken from the streets around world-famous tourist attractions including the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Templo Mayor and the National Palace.