30,000 killed in Mexico's drug violence since 2006

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MEXICO CITY – Mexico said Thursday that more than 30,000 people have been killed in drug violence since President Felipe Calderon launched a crackdown against cartels in late 2006.

The government said the violent La Familia cartel in western Mexico has been "systematically weakened" by recent arrests and deaths of leading members of the gang.

Attorney General Arturo Chavez Chavez told reporters that about 12,500 people were killed between January and November, compared to 9,600 for all of 2009. That was an increase from the last official report of deaths in the drug war, in August, when the country's intelligence agency director said 28,000 had died.

In a joint statement later Thursday, Chavez Chavez's office, the army, federal police and navy said the La Familia cartel was reeling from the recent deaths or arrests of some of it leaders. It said the cartel had begun to pursue false propaganda campaigns depicting itself as a protector of inhabitants of the western state of Michoacan.

"The systematic weakening of this criminal group due to the actions of the federal government has forced some of its members to adopt false rhetoric about helping the people of Michoacan, when in fact their operational methods are to terrorize and rob them," according to the statement.

That was an apparent reference to a Dec. 9 recording by La Familia leader Servando Gomez, who urged cartel supporters over a radio frequency to continue fighting, hours after the death of the group's leader, Nazario Moreno, nicknamed "The Craziest One" or "The Doctor."

"God is with us, onward to victory!" Gomez is heard saying in the tape, in which he urged cartel supporters to join recent demonstrations calling for the withdrawal of federal police and the army. Gomez is also heard complaining that the government had not accepted the cartel's offer to declare a temporary truce.

In its statement, the federal government stressed it would not negotiate with cartels. "The only option that remains for these criminals to hand themselves over to the authorities," it said.

The statement also stressed that federal forces are in Michoacan largely because local and state police are unable to handle the fight against the cartel. It noted that only 15 percent of state police officers and only 9 percent of municipal officers in Michoacan had been vetted or subject to background checks.

Many local police forces have been accused of collaborating with drug gangs.

Also Thursday, the navy reported it has seized 240 200-liter (53 gallon) drums of a precursor chemical used to make methamphetamines. It said the shipment was seized Thursday at the Gulf coast port of Altamira.

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