MEXICO CITY – Anger over gasoline prices hikes in Mexico fueled more protests and looting Thursday, and officials said the unrest had resulted in the death of a policeman and a bystander, the ransacking of 300 stores and arrests of over 600 people.
The country’s business chambers said the combination of highway, port and terminal blockades and looting this week forced many stores and businesses to close and threatened supplies of basic goods and fuel.
Mexicans were enraged by the 20 percent fuel price hike announced over the weekend as part of a government deregulation of the energy sector. Protesters began blocking highways and gas stations and some people have broken into stores to carry off merchandise.
Authorities said one policeman was run over and killed and another was seriously injured when they tried to stop robberies at a gas station in Mexico City. Police in the capital said they had arrested 76 people for looting about 29 stores.
In the Gulf coast state of Veracruz, a pickup truck trying to flee police during a store looting ran over a pedestrian, killing him, officials said.
Veracruz Gov. Miguel Ángel Yunes Linares ventured out Thursday and tried to persuade a crowd not to attack a grocery store that had already been looted a day earlier. He offered the crowd coupons for 500 pesos ($23.25) if they would desist from looting.
In Mexico State, which borders Mexico City, 430 people had been detained as suspected looters. Four state police officers were fired and detained after they were caught on video taking some looted items and putting them in their patrol vehicles.
With blockades affecting everything from gas distribution terminals, seaports and highways to shopping centers and gas stations, the Communications and Transport Department announced it would cancel permits for any truckers who block roads.
Truck and taxi drivers have been among the most affected by the fuel price increases, which took effect as the government ends regulated prices for gasoline and diesel, which it says represented subsidies that unduly benefited wealthier Mexicans.
The change boosted the average price for a liter of premium gasoline to about 90 cents. That makes 4 liters, or about a gallon, equal to nearly as much as Mexico’s just raised minimum wage for a day’s work — about $4.
President Enrique Peña Nieto said Wednesday that he would try to help groups hit hard by the increases.
“I understand the anger and irritation felt by the general public” over the price increases, Peña Nieto said. But, he added, “If this decision had not been taken, the effects and consequences would have been far more painful.”
The Mexican Council of Bishops urged the government to reconsider the price increases, which it said especially hurt the poor.
“One has to be sensitive to the daily needs of the people,” the bishops said in a statement. “It is not right to impose laws without taking into account peoples’ realities and their feelings.”
But the bishops also called on protesters to stop looting and “use peaceful and creative means to express their feelings.”
The National Association of Self-Service and Department Stores of Mexico said in a statement Wednesday night that more than 79 stores had been looted and 170 were closed or blockaded in central Mexico, including the capital.
The unrest “resulting in the theft of merchandise put at risk the lives of clients and workers in the stores, primarily in Mexico State, Michoacán, Hidalgo and Mexico City,” the statement said.
In the city of Veracruz, 50 establishments including convenience stores, supermarkets and big-box outlets suffered looting, according to a preliminary count by the local chamber of commerce Wednesday. Store guards were overrun by crowds who carried off clothing, food, washing machines, televisions, DVD players and refrigerators.
Extra police patrols were deployed, and at least 14 people were detained, the state government reported. At one supermarket officers fired into the air to disperse the multitudes.