Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev urged Mexicans during a visit to this border city to learn the lessons that come from "violent changes" and work toward strengthening national unity.

Gorbachev took part in a conference Monday in Ciudad Juárez, considered Mexico's murder capital and the most dangerous city in the world, that was attended by politicians and business leaders involved in an effort to attract investment to the city.

"You are going to triumph," Gorbachev said in his address to about 1,000 people attending the "Juárez Competitiva" conference, which started last Thursday and runs until the end of the month.

"Violent changes help to learn and educate because if there is change and you do not learn, it is not consolidated so it can be lasting," the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize winner said.

The violence of the past four years in Ciudad Juárez, where about 9,000 people have been murdered, is worrisome "because it reflects the state of the world," Gorbachev said.

"We are responsible for what is happening," the former Soviet leader said.

Mexicans should act independently and work to promote a sense of national unity, he said.

"During the unification of Germany, we had to appeal to unity, for the two Germanies to be willing to accept unity. That's the only way," Gorbachev said.

The conference, which includes cultural events, is being held in an effort to restore Ciudad Juárez's tarnished image.

The series of events will feature a number of prominent speakers, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Mexican astronaut Rodolfo Neri Vela.

Ciudad Juárez, located across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, first gained notoriety in the early 1990s, when young women began to disappear in the area.

More than 500 women have been killed in Ciudad Juárez since 1993, according to the National Human Rights Commission, with the majority of the cases going unsolved.

In most of the slayings, the victims were young women from poor families who moved to the border city from all over Mexico to work in the many assembly plants, known as "maquiladoras," built there to take advantage of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Investigators have not determined who is behind the killings, although there has been speculation that serial killers, organized crime, people traffickers, drug smugglers and child pornographers, among others, may be involved.

Ciudad Juárez has been plagued by a wave of drug-related violence in recent years blamed on a war for control of smuggling routes into the United States being waged by the Juárez and Sinaloa cartels with backing from hitmen from local street gangs.

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