MEXICO CITY (AFP) – Mexico’s president left Sunday on a six-day trip to China and Australia amid angry protests over the suspected massacre of 43 college students by a gang allied with corrupt police.
Angry protesters tried to break into Mexico City’s National Palace late Saturday, while others torched several trucks in the southern state of Guerrero, where the students vanished in September.
Thousands of people marched in the capital over a case that has repulsed the nation and triggered the biggest crisis of President Enrique Pena Nieto’s administration.
The protests came a day after authorities said suspected Guerreros Unidos gang hitmen confessed to receiving the students from local police, killing them, incinerating their bodies and dumping them in a river in Guerrero.
Authorities said they are still waiting for DNA results to confirm the identities of the remains.
But the apparent mass murder has shattered Pena Nieto’s attempts to move Mexico’s narrative away from years of drug violence and toward the economic reforms that have earned him international praise.
Despite the unrest, Pena Nieto left for China to attend an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit before a two-day state visit in the country, with which he has sought closer ties.
He will then travel to Brisbane, Australia, for a G20 summit before returning Saturday.
Pena Nieto used a layover in Alaska to defend the trip, telling reporters it would be “irresponsible” for him to miss summits that are important for Mexico.
A new controversy emerged during his travels, as the news website Aristegui Noticias reported that his wife had bought a luxurious home owned by a Mexican firm linked to a Chinese-led consortium that had won a bullet train contract.
Pena Nieto abruptly canceled the contract Thursday after the opposition questioned the transparency of the bidding process, in which the Chinese-Mexican group led by China Railway Construction Corp was the only bidder.
Pena Nieto’s office said in a statement that his wife, former soap opera star Angelica Rivera, had purchased the home on her own. Aristegui Noticias valued the property at $7 million.