Mexico City, Mar 8 (efe-epa).- Demonstrators marching in Mexico City on International Women’s Day on Monday knocked down part of a metal wall that the government had erected around the National Palace, the residence of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, to protect the building from vandalism by protesters.
Mexican police attacked, beat and arrested four photo-journalists, one of them from Agencia EFE, Spain’s international news agency, who were covering the demonstration.
Thousands of women gathered on Mexico City’s huge central plaza, the Zocalo, where the National Palace stands, and knocked down several metal barriers forming part of the protective wall around the complex. The wall had sparked controversy nationwide because of its symbolism in the face of feminist demands.
Capital police, with the teams monitoring the protest comprised exclusively of female officers, responded to the protesters’ attempt to advance toward the presidential residence by deploying pepper spray at the point where demonstrators began pounding on the wall, ultimately toppling a portion of it.
Mexico City authorities reported that about 1,700 female police officers were overseeing the march.
A few hours earlier, Mexico City woke to reinforced security, with certain streets and access points blocked off by security forces.
In contrast to previous years, the government had erected a huge metal barrier wall around the National Palace to prevent demonstrators from painting slogans on – and otherwise vandalizing – the walls of the National Palace itself.
The barrier wall, which was criticized by the feminist movement as a symbol of repression, over the weekend was transformed into a tribute to the victims of femicide, with many people placing flowers and paintings along it.
Lopez Obrador, in the face of the controversy, on Monday accused “conservatives” of being behind the demonstration.
In recent weeks, the president has been harshly criticized by the feminist movement, since his National Renewal Movement (Morena) party is resisting withdrawing the candidacy of Felix Salgado Macedonio for governor of Guerrero state amid accusations of rape by several women.
Meanwhile, regarding the police attack on journalists, the incident occurred around midday inside the Hidalgo metro station in the downtown portion of Mexico City when press photographers were following a march by women during which some of the protesters painted slogans on the inside walls of the metro station.
According to Sashenka Gutierrez, a photojournalist for EFE, dozens of police officers “began attacking the female photographers” and tried to arrest them even though they identified themselves at all times as journalists.
Besides Gutierrez, other photojournalists who were attacked by the police were Gabriela Esquivel, with 24 Horas; Leslie Perez, with El Heraldo de Mexico; and Graciela Lopez, with Cuartoscuro.
The latter two journalists were handcuffed and held up against a wall by police officers.
“They didn’t let us leave, closed off access to the metro and began kicking us, pulled our hair and didn’t acknowledge that we were press. They wanted to take our cameras,” said Gutierrez, who videotaped what was happening.
In addition, the police sprayed fire extinguishers in the area to reduce visibility and began beating the women again.
Two of the journalists were able to get away from the officers with the help of demonstrators who returned to look for them, while the other two remained in the hands of the police until members of the Marabunta Brigade, an NGO that defends the freedom to demonstrate, and interceded on their behalf with the officers.
After escaping, Gutierrez said that all the female journalists were OK, with the exception of Perez, who has several cuts on her hands from the handcuffs.
When it learned about the incident, the Mexico City Public Safety Secretariat said on the social networks that “the women are not in custody,” adding that “the circumstances are being investigated.”
Later, secretariat officials got in contact with Agencia EFE to learn in more detail what had happened.