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Group backs drug cartel over police

A group of farmers and businessmen from a western Mexico state have demanded that the government stop sending thousands of federal police to fight a local drug cartel.

While the Michoacan group denied any links to the Knights Templar cartel, its news conference in Mexico City coincided with a rare public relations push by the gang, whose leader raged against federal police in a video statement posted over the weekend on social media sites.

Both the cartel and the group, which calls itself Peace with Dignity for Michoacan, also railed against "self-defence" groups set up by residents in several Michoacan towns to resist Knights Templar gunmen.

The self-defence groups say the cartel's gunmen subjected residents to systematic extortion demands for "protection payments".

But the Peace with Dignity group said such payments were levied only on part of the population, such as big avocado plantations, and were helpful in some cases, or at least a necessary evil.

Farmer Nicolas Aguilar said "avocado farmers were getting robbed a lot" by thieves sneaking into orchards. "We were told there was a payment being collected to help with security, and since then we haven't had any more problems with theft," he said.

The group also cited a list of alleged abuses by federal police, who they said were bothering local women and scaring away tourism, one of the main sources of revenue for the hilly, pine-clad state. "We don't want any more federal police," said a Purepecha Indian community leader, Miguel Aguilera.

That coincides with the message from Knights Templar leader Servando "La Tuta" Gomez, who admitted being a criminal but said his gang is defending Michoacan against rival drug gangs who he said were worse thieves.

Gomez also alleged abuses and corruption by the thousands of federal officers sent by President Enrique Pena Nieto to Michoacan in May after violence between the cartel and self-defence groups escalated.

"They scare off tourism, they scare off investment. They come to steal," Gomez said of the federal police. He further accused them of protecting and fermenting the self-defence groups, which he claimed are pawns of the rival Jalisco cartel.

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