updated 8/4/2010 6:13:17 PM ET 2010-08-04T22:13:17

President Felipe Calderon said Wednesday that Mexico's cartels in many cases have moved beyond drugs as their main money-earner and are even trying to supplant the government in parts of the country.

Speaking at an anti-crime conference, Calderon said gangs are imposing fees like taxes in towns they dominate, extorting money from both legitimate and unauthorized businesses.

"This has become an activity that defies the government, and even seeks to replace the government," he said. "They are trying to impose a monopoly by force of arms, and are even trying to impose their own laws."

Calderon said cartels may even be taking money from churches. "I do not doubt that they are also extorting money from priests and pastors in this country," he said.

Drugs are becoming less of a focus for the gangs, he said.

"Their main business is not anymore even drug trafficking, sometimes," Calderon said. "Their business is dominating other people."

Calderon told the gathering that some people are urging him to leave the cartels alone, after more than 28,000 people have died in drug violence since he launched an offensive against the cartels upon taking office in late 2006.

"Really, they are telling me, 'Mr. President, don't bother the criminals'," he said.

Calderon called that "simply an unacceptable option."

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