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Wednesday February 7, 2001

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Mexican students block university 1 year after police takeover

By The Associated Press

MEXICO CITY - Members of a dying strike movement blocked branches of Latin America's largest university and marched on Mexico City's main avenues yesterday to commemorate the first anniversary of a police raid that ended their nearly 10-month school takeover.

Members of the self-named General Strike Council barred workers of the National Autonomous University of Mexico from entering the rector's building and prevented 50 employees from leaving the school of political and social sciences by forcing them to take off their pants and shoes, the government news agency Notimex reported.

Despite the disruptions - which also included a separate march by about 200 students opposing the strikers - university officials said 80 percent of the school's facilities were open and operating normally.

The same strikers had occupied and effectively paralyzed academic activity at the 260,000-student university from April 20, 1999, until Feb. 6, 2000, when they were evicted at dawn by unarmed agents of the federal preventative police, which arrested 430 students.

Most were released days later, but a half-dozen remained in jail on various charges including robbery after they allegedly removed and destroyed university equipment. The last six detained citizens were released on bail in June.

The 291-day strike was launched to protest plans to raise annual tuition, which had been just a few cents, to the equivalent of 140 dollars.

The university backed down, but a small core of radical students continued to occupy the campus. They pushed an agenda to reverse recent academic reforms and give students more power within the university administration. They also used the strike as a stage to denounce the free-market economy and Mexico's political system.

The longer the strike continued, the louder a chorus of opposition grew from university officials, students and parents who held their own marches and blockades to demand the strikers return their school.

Since then, the extremists have occasionally occupied the rector's building and other facilities, but with only minor disruptions to the university.

The strike did major damage to the state-funded university. In the previous year, university officials said new applications for undergraduate admissions dropped from 70,000 to 40,000 following the strike.

Since then, the university has been working to restore its reputation as a respected institution that had educated generations of Mexicans for free, including several former presidents.

Yesterday, television broadcasts showed crowds of students carrying books and backpacks gathering outside the entrances of several closed branches waiting to see if they could get in.

About 200 students at the university's law school marched yesterday morning to oppose the strikers' actions, knocking down barricades that the strikers had erected to prevent them from entering, the Mexico City newspaper Reforma reported.