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Drug-cartel probe nets 10 mayors, 18 officials

MEXICAN Federal forces have detained 10 mayors and 18 other officials for allegedly protecting one of Mexico's most violent drug cartels in an unprecedented anti-corruption sweep in the Pacific coast state of Michoacan.

Soldiers and federal agents fanned out across President Felipe Calderon's native state on Tuesday to carry out the operation, which an expert called a blow to politicians tied to traffickers in Michoacan.

The officials, who had been under investigation for six months, allegedly leaked sensitive information and provided protection to the La Familia cartel, said Ricardo Najera, a spokesman for the federal Attorney General's Office.

More than 200 federal agents burst into the state attorney general's office in Morelia to detain three of the officials.

Most of the mayors were from towns in a mountainous region where there have been numerous beheadings and federal agents recently found 22 methamphetamine laboratories. Among those detained was the mayor of Uruapan, where La Familia gunmen dumped five human heads on a bar dance floor in 2006, the Attorney General's Office said.

The mayors came from different parties, including Calderon's own conservative National Action Party.

The detentions of elected officials show how Mexican cartels have infiltrated the country's political structure and how far-reaching their control is in rural Mexico, said Victor Clark, an expert on trafficking based in the drug-plagued northern border city of Tijuana.

It also marks a first for the federal government, which has arrested scores of corrupt police officers in the past but has never gone after such a large group of mayors.

"This is a huge blow to the cartel. These ties are indispensable for the operation of these organizations," said Clark, director of the Binational Center for Human Rights in Tijuana.


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