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Violence no worse than usual in Ciudad Juarez

Streets, nightclubs and restaurants were largely deserted this weekend in a Mexican city across from Texas where a widely circulated e-mail warned of a bloodbath.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Streets, nightclubs and restaurants were largely deserted this weekend in a Mexican city across from Texas where a widely circulated e-mail warned of a bloodbath.

But violence did not appear to be worse than usual in Ciudad Juarez, home base of the powerful Juarez drug cartel and one of the hardest-hit cities in a surge of homicides across Mexico.

Security officials reported at least six homicides since Saturday, including two municipal police officers who were riddled with machine-gun fire as they were getting into a car. Several businesses were set on fire, but nobody was hurt.

The weekend homicide figures were not especially alarming in a city where more than 200 people have been killed thus far this year. Eight people were killed on Friday alone, including five men whose bodies were dumped on a street corner wrapped in blankets. Two of the men had been decapitated.

Nobody seems to know who wrote the threatening e-mail, but many people forwarded it to friends. It said gunmen would fire at malls, restaurants and other public places and warned people to stay home.

Residents heed the warning
Many residents seemed to heed the warning, with few people venturing outside even in cars. Stores, restaurants and nightclubs had few customers, and some businesses stayed closed.

"Ciudad Juarez was like a ghost town on Saturday night," said Claudia Morenos Torres, a 22-year-old journalism student. "My friend and I were scared. We decided not to go to any nightclubs because we were afraid of attacks. Besides, many clubs were closed. We just got together at a friend's house, and I guess that's the way it's going to be until the situation changes."

One auto parts store owner said his sales fell about 60 percent over the weekend.

"Until we know whether the e-mails are authentic, businesses are going to be affected," said the businessman, who asked that his name not be used because he feared becoming a target. "If you ask me how this has affected me as a father, I would say we are panicking."

In a rare confirmation of how bad violence has become across Mexico, the attorney general said Friday that homicides related to organized crime had jumped 47 percent so far this year, compared to the same period in 2007.

Drug cartels lashing back at crackdown
The government says drug cartels are lashing back at a nationwide crackdown carried out by 20,000 soldiers and federal police. Drug gangs have staged increasingly bold attacks against security forces, assassinating some top commanders at their homes.

In Ciudad Juarez, at least 14 police have been killed this year, including seven whose names were on a hit list left at a monument for fallen officers. The police chief resigned last week, and officials said he would be replaced by a military officer on leave from the armed forces.

The government has already deployed more than 2,500 soldiers and federal police to the city and surrounding Chihuahua state.

Jaime Torres Valadez, spokesman for the Ciudad Juarez Public Safety Department, said police patrolled as usual over the weekend.

Fires broke out early Sunday at a bar, and at a nightclub whose owner had been gunned down last week.

Fire chief Guadalupe Sandoval said the fires appeared to have been set deliberately, but authorities did not say if there were any suspects.