MEXICO CITY — Protesters ransacked and burned government offices Monday in Chilpancingo, the capital of Guerrero state, in an explosion of outrage over the suspected kidnapping and murder of 43 students by corrupt local police.
Anti-government rallies have been held in several Mexican cities since the students’ disappearance Sept. 26 and the subsequent discovery of mass graves outside Iguala, about 120 miles south of Mexico City.
But on Monday, the protests turned violent. After clashing with riot police, about 200 demonstrators stormed an office building in the state capital, toppling and torching vehicles outside.
Television footage showed masked young men and farmers in straw hats smashing windows and setting the building ablaze.
They demanded that the state governor, Ángel Aguirre, release the students or provide answers on their fate within the next 24 hours.
Aguirre seemed to fan public anger further Monday and over the weekend when he told reporters that some of the 28 corpses recovered from clandestine burial sites outside Iguala were not those of the missing students.
“I have confidence that we’ll find [the students] alive,” he said, adding that at least some of the graves were separate victims “of organized crime.”
Federal prosecutors in Mexico City have contradicted Aguirre’s statements and urged patience while forensic tests are conducted to determine the identity of the dead, warning that the process could take weeks, even months.
But Aguirre’s declarations appear to have contributed to the belief among friends and family members of the missing students that they are still alive and the government isn’t doing enough to find them.
State police chief Leonardo Vázquez said the student protesters overran the building after a six-hour standoff with riot police. The protesters allowed women, children and seniors to leave but insisted that men
remain inside, and when police escorted the men out, the
students “became enraged,” Vázquez said, speaking at a news conference outside the charred offices.
Monday’s violence puts new pressure on Mexican federal and state authorities to act or provide answers.
The students are from the rural Ayotzinapa teachers college in Guerrero and spent Sept. 26 fundraising and protesting new education laws in the small city of Iguala. They allegedly came under attack from local police and gangsters after they tried to commandeer several buses for a ride home.
The students were last seen being rounded up by municipal police. The mayor of Iguala and the police chief are both wanted as suspects, but have fled.
Tuesday could bring new clashes in Guerrero. Student protesters in the nearby state of Michoacan reportedly seized between 25 and 35 passenger buses Monday, and were possibly planning to take them to Guerrero to join the demonstrations there, according to local news reports.