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Slaying by police sparks partisan fury in Mexico

NAUCALPAN, Mexico -- The fatal shooting of a young municipal worker last week by a police officer here provoked a rampage of partisan violence that could affect the outcome of closely watched gubernatorial elections next month in Mexico's most populous state.

On Thursday, union activists loyal to President Ernesto Zedillo's governing party attacked municipal police in this industrial suburb governed by the opposition, vowing to avenge the killing by police the day before. The violence suggests that police abuse is likely to be a potent campaign theme as Mexico moves toward presidential balloting next year.Naucalpan is a city of 1 million residents in the state of Mexico, a region of smoky factories and gritty slums adjoining Mexico City. The state has for 70 years been governed by Zedillo's Institutional Revolutionary Party.

Gubernatorial elections are scheduled for July 4, and Jose Luis Duran, who two years ago won election as Naucalpan's first opposition mayor, has taken a leave of absence to run as the candidate of the pro-business National Action Party, called PAN.

Statewide opinion surveys show Duran to be closing a modest lead held by Ricardo Montiel, the PRI candidate. Higinio Martinez, the candidate of a leftist party, is running a distant third.

On Wednesday afternoon, two Naucalpan police officers attempted to detain Mauricio Martinez Hernandez, a 25-year-old city waterworks employee, and one of the officers shot him dead when he attempted to flee, in disputed circumstances. Naucalpan's acting mayor said in an interview Saturday that the killing followed a dispute between Martinez and the officer over a woman; local PRI leaders insist the shooting occurred after Martinez resisted police attempts to rob him.

Angry residents gathered around Martinez's body, the officers fled in their squad car, and local PRI leaders immediately blamed the killing on Duran. Within hours of the shooting, thousands of handbills headlined "Killer Police, Duran's Legacy!" were being distributed.