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Bankers hurt Indians, says rebel leader in Mexico

CUAUTLA, Mexico — Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos criticized Mexico's bankers on Wednesday, saying that they were the biggest threat to the country's indigenous population.

Speaking to hundreds of supporters in Cuautla, 45 miles south of Mexico City, Marcos accused the country's bankers of wanting to exploit the land by extracting precious resources.

"They want to construct and administer centers of diversion where the peasants and the indigenous would be clowns," he said.

He also attacked President Vicente Fox's plan to bring more development to the country's poor southern states.

"Instead of using riches to support poor peasants and small business owners . . . Fox has a plan to use the money to support those who want to fill the land with gas stations, malls and plastic playlands," he said.

Marcos is leading a two-week trek through Mexico to build support for an Indian rights and autonomy bill. He and hundreds of supporters are scheduled to arrive Sunday in Mexico City, where they will lobby Congress for passage of the bill.

Marcos' repeated attacks drew the criticism of Felipe Calderon Hinojosa, a congressional leader from Fox's party.

"The discussion has been about nothing," Hinojosa told the state-run news agency, Notimex. He said the rebel leader's speeches have been based on "insults, and I know that you can't win with those."

The rebels staged a 1994 uprising in the name of democracy and Indian rights, leading to sporadic violence between Zapatista supporters and paramilitary groups in southern Chiapas state.

Fox has focused on making peace with the rebels since taking office Dec. 1. In an effort to lure them back to long-stalled talks, he has closed four army bases in Chiapas, helped gain the release of dozens of jailed Zapatista supporters and sent Congress the Indian rights bill.

Besides passage of the bill, however, the Zapatistas want more rebel prisoners released and three more Chiapas bases closed.