Riot police detain a protester during a police action to clear out striking teachers from the Zocalo, Mexico City's main plaza, Friday, Sept. 13, 2013. Minutes after a late-afternoon government deadline for teachers to leave from the city's main plaza, where they have camped out for weeks, riot police moved in, firing tear gas and ducking hurled rocks in a confrontation culminating weeks of protests against an education reform. (AP Photo/Eduardo verdugo)
Mexican police cleared the main square in this capital of educators protesting the enactment of a teacher evaluation scheme they slam as "punitive."
The operation was launched Friday afternoon after the thousands of teachers, members of the CNTE union, were given an ultimatum by authorities to peacefully abandon the capital's massive Zocalo plaza.
Although some of the teachers heeded the call, others remained in the square and positioned themselves behind flimsy barricades while waiting for the riot police to move in.
When the officers finally entered the plaza, some people hurled various objects, including Molotov cocktails, Efe confirmed, while the police responded with water cannon.
A total of 31 people were arrested, though apparently none of them were teachers, federal police chief Manuel Mondragon said in a television interview, adding that 15 police sustained bumps and bruises but no protesters were injured.
He said the riot police did not fire tear gas, contradicting statements by demonstrators and witnesses.
After being dispersed from the square, most of the teachers gathered in front of the Monument to the Revolution, while a CNTE delegation held a meeting of less than an hour with federal authorities. The substance of those talks was not immediately made public.
Mexico's government secretary, Miguel Angel Osorio, said Friday night that authorities removed the protesters from the plaza after they "showed no willingness" to accept a government proposal to move their protest elsewhere.
He said officials with the National Human Rights Commission, Mexico's equivalent of an ombudsman's office, observed the police operation.
CNTE activists, most of them from poor, rural areas with primitive infrastructure, gathered in the capital last month to dissuade Congress from passing laws to implement an educational overhaul President Enrique Peña Nieto promulgated in February.
Lawmakers, however, eventually approved the overhaul subjecting teachers to a comprehensive regime of evaluation, sparking protests Wednesday by some 12,000 CNTE members, who blocked streets in this traffic-choked capital.
The CNTE, representing a third of Mexico's public school teachers, says it does not object in principle to evaluation, only to the "punitive" scheme devised by the government, which is seen as setting the stage for massive layoffs.
The education overhaul is the first fruit of the governance pact forged earlier this year by Peña Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, with Mexico's two other major political forces: the rightist PAN and the center-left PRD.