President Felipe Calderon appealed to Mexicans to support the fight against organized crime just hours after troops killed 15 suspected gang members, part of a surge in violence that has June headed toward being the deadliest month yet in his drug war.
In a televised message to the nation Tuesday night, Calderon urged his countrymen to report criminals to authorities and help defeat the brutal drug cartels. A phone number for anonymous tips flashed on the screen as he spoke.
"This is a battle that is worth fighting because our future is at stake," Calderon said during the 10-minute address. "It's a battle that, with all Mexicans united, we will win."
Calderon's message came a day after he published an essay in national newspapers defending the crackdown on cartels, a fight that has seen more than 23,000 people killed since late 2006 when he began deploying thousands of troops and federal police to drug hot spots. Mexican officials attribute much of the bloodshed to turf battles between drug cartels, but the gangs are increasingly turning to attacks on police and prosecutors.
"To recover our security won't be an easy or quick task but it's worth continuing," Calderon said in the speech. "My government can't and won't let its guard down."
Before Calderon spoke, soldiers investigating suspicious activity came under fire from gunmen holed up in a house in the popular tourist town of Taxco in Guerrero state.
The Defense Department said no soldiers were hurt in the 40-minute shootout that left 15 gunmen dead. Twenty guns and two homemade explosives were recovered, it added.
Taxco police, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, told The Associated Press that the men killed were suspected of being tied to Edgar Valdez Villarreal, a reputed U.S.-born capo known as "La Barbie." Mexican security forces have detained several alleged Valdez henchmen recently.
Taxco is popular with foreign visitors because of its colonial architecture and more than 2,000 silver shops, but it has increasingly been the scene of cartel turf battles. Two weeks ago, authorities discovered 55 bodies in an abandoned Taxco silver mine that was being used as a dumping ground for apparent victims of drug violence.
Tuesday's battle came a day after 12 federal police officers were killed in an ambush in neighboring Michoacan state, a stronghold of drug activity. It was unclear if the two shootouts were related.
Federal police anti-drug chief Ramon Pequeno blamed the attack on the Michoacan-based La Familia, a cartel that has become notorious for bold assaults on federal security forces.
Also Monday, gunmen killed three federal officers in the northern city of Chihuahua, and inmates at a prison in northern Sinaloa state used guns apparently smuggled inside to kill 21 prisoners in what officials said appeared to be a dispute between gangs. At least eight more inmates were later stabbed to death in apparent reprisals at the same prison.
The dozens of deaths on Monday and Tuesday followed a particularly bloody pair of weeks. Last week, gunmen killed 16 people in one day in the northern city of Ciudad Madero, and attackers burst into a drug rehab center in Chihuahua and shot 19 men to death.
Associated Press Writer E. Eduardo Castillo contributed to this report.
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