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Probe ordered after women killed

A judge has ordered Mexican authorities to investigate the killings of women in the suburbs of Mexico City, reviving a sensitive issue related to a former governor who is a leading candidate in the presidential race.

Judge Jose Alvarado ruled a national, multi-government agency formed to fight violence against women should reconsider a request by activists to declare a state of alert for central Mexico State, women's rights activist Maria de la Luz Estrada said.

Human rights groups say hundreds of women have been killed or gone missing in recent years in that state, which lies next to Mexico City and is home to 13 million people.

Ms Estrada said her group has documented more than 1,000 killings of women during the six-year administration of former Governor Enrique Pena Nieto, who is a leading contender in the July 1 presidential election.

State authorities did not immediately comment on the ruling, which was issued on February 27 but not revealed until Tuesday.

The issue recalled the campaign for justice waged by relatives of women killed in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, where dozens of women were tortured, raped and killed prompting a women's rights movement that garnered international attention.

"Authorities in Mexico State don't investigate and instead blame the victims for their own deaths, or in many cases say they committed suicide, without doing a proper investigation," said Ms Estrada, who co-ordinates the National Citizens Observers on Women's Killings.

Political analyst John Ackerman, of the legal research institute at Mexico's National Autonomous University, said the case could be "another stone in the shoe of Pena Nieto that he's going to have to deal with" during the campaign.

The judge's ruling was aimed at the National Agency for Prevention and Eradication of Violence Against Women, which was formed in 2007 from federal, state and local agencies to declare violence alerts and follow up with education, prosecution and prevention programs.

Twenty of 34 agency representatives voted last year against declaring an alert for Mexico State, a move that would have required authorities at all three levels of government to co-ordinate investigations of gender violence. The agency can appeal the judge's ruling.

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