‘Self-defense’ forces challenge drug cartel

Fighting in which “self-
defense” forces sought to oust the Knights Templar drug cartel from the western Mexican state of Michoacan left at least five men dead and hundreds of thousands of people without electricity.

The weekend clashes followed a march by a self-defense force into the city of Apatzingan, the central stronghold of the pseudo-religious Knights Templar cartel, which for years has dominated Michoacan, a state that sends a steady stream of avocados and migrants to the United States.

Since rising up in February against systematic extortion by the Knights Templar, residents of a half-dozen towns that formed self-defense patrols have lived without access to Apatzingan, a commercial center and road hub that is home to the area’s main hospital and markets.

Self-defense leaders said they finally grew tired of the cartel blocking services and commerce in an attempt to strangle their uprising and showed up Friday at Apatzingan’s outskirts, armed and ready to “liberate” the city. They were turned back by soldiers who said they couldn’t enter with weapons.

A convoy of hundreds of unarmed self-defense patrol members returned Saturday and entered the city, where they were met by gunfire, presumably from the Knights Templar.

“They attacked us with grenades, and with M-60 machine guns, judging by the bullet holes in some of our vehicles,” self-defense leader José Manuel Mireles said Monday.

Local police said five men were found dead after that attack, but Mireles said self-defense patrol members saw 12 dead cartel gunmen and lost one of their own.

Apparently in retaliation, suspected cartel members on Sunday attacked electrical facilities

— Associated Press

Key trial begins in phone-hacking case

Rupert Murdoch’s former British newspaper chief and Prime Minister David Cameron’s former media head went on trial for phone hacking Monday at the start of one of Britain’s most high-profile court cases in years.

Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, both former editors of Murdoch’s now-defunct News of the World tabloid, are accused of conspiring to illegally access voice-mail messages on mobile phones belonging to politicians, the rich and famous, and victims of crime and ordinary people to obtain exclusive news.

The two, who face trial with six others, deny all charges.

The scandal sent shock waves through the British establishment and shook Murdoch’s News Corp. empire. It revealed the close ties between press barons, police chiefs and senior politicians. The media industry is still at loggerheads with Cameron’s government over how it should be regulated.

Detectives launched an investigation in early 2011, and more than 125 people have been arrested and more than 40 charged.

— Reuters

Argentine president suffers election setback: Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s allies took a beating in mid-term elections Sunday, shrinking her majority in Congress, ending chances of a constitutional change to allow her a third term and kicking off the contest to succeed her in 2015. Reelected in 2011 on promises of increasing state control in Latin America’s No. 3 economy, Fernán­dez’s political coattails were trimmed by inflation, measured by private analysts at 25 percent. Currency controls and falling central bank reserves have hurt her government.

Former Thai premier to face charges: Prosecutors in Thailand on Monday said they will seek an indictment against former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban for their alleged roles in the deaths of demonstrators during a 2010 crackdown on anti-government protests, officials said. The two will be charged with “causing others to commit murders and attempted murders” through orders they issued to end a nine-week occupation of downtown Bangkok.

European storm causes widespread damage: Hurricane-strength winds battered Britain, the Netherlands and Scandinavia on Monday, killing at least seven people, cutting power and forcing the cancellation of flights and train journeys. Gusts of up to 99 mph lashed southern England and Wales in the worst storm recorded in Britain in a decade.

U.S. missile base construction begins in Romania: Work has started on a U.S. base in southern Romania that will form part of a ballistic missile defense system that has angered Russia. The Deveselu base is expected to be operational in 2015. It will house SM-3 interceptor missiles and radar equipment.

— From news services