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Opposition Leaders Surrender After Riot

September 18, 1985

AGUA PRIETA, Mexico (AP) _ Five leaders of Mexico’s main opposition party surrendered to police in this border city Tuesday following fiery protests in which rioters set city hall ablaze and burned at least 13 cars.

Riot police sent in by Sonora Gov. Rodolfo Felix Valdes patrolled the streets as workers began removing debris from the gutted building, which was set afire Monday before the protesters were dispersed with tear gas. The fire chief said protesters ″wouldn’t let us fight the fire.″

Violence began building late Sunday when Bernardino Meza Ortiz, of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, arrived at city hall to take possession of the mayor’s office in a midnight ceremony. Protesters rocked his car and he eventually drove away, witnesses said. He was sworn in later in another municipal building.

Outgoing mayor Leonardo Yanez Varga and defeated mayoral candidate Carlos Munguia, both of the National Action Party, or PAN, were among those who drove to the police station Tuesday morning, according to Associated Press photographer Jeff Robbins.

Also detained Tuesday were local PAN leader Eduardo Lalo Corella and his sister, Viola, and the PAN representative in Hermosillo, Norberto Corella.

Meza Ortiz defeated Yanez in July 7 elections marked by violence in this city of 40,000 people across the border from Douglas, Ariz. PAN claimed the election was stolen by the PRI.

PAN leaders said their supporters had been among the estimated 3,000 protesters at city hall Monday, but denied that the party had planned the violence.

There was no immediate word on why police were taking the five into custody. Telephone calls to police, the mayor’s office, and PAN offices in Agua Prieta and the Sonora state capital of Hermosillo were unanswered Tuesday.

Munguia, whose home was surrounded by police Monday, said he had been told by government officials in Hermosillo that he was to be taken into custody.

Five other men were arrested late Monday and charged with setting fire to city hall and to public and private cars, including five to seven police vehicles, Francisco Solano, the governor’s press secretary, said.

The Arizona Republic, in a copyright story Tuesday, said the state police had been flown from Hermosillo on Monday with orders from the governor to restore calm.

About 200 officers entered the crowd protected by shields and riot helmets and carrying clubs, the newspaper said.

A television camerman with KTSP, the CBS affiliate in Phoenix, returned to Arizona on Tuesday after being held overnight in Agua Prieta.

John La Count, 30, said he and a producer were conducting an interview in a PAN official’s home when he went to his car to retrieve some equipment. He said four men in plainclothes, carrying machine guns, seized him and took him to a building where about 20 men and women were detained.

La Count said he was not carrying his news media credentials and that his captors did not believe he was a television cameraman. He was bound and kicked at least 10 times in the head and groin, he said.

On Tuesday, La Count said, the men put him in a truck with two people carrying machine guns, which they loaded and unloaded several times. He was released at the Hotel Hacienda.

Update hourly