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Top woman lawyer 'to lead drug war'

Mexico's attorney general, known mainly for his weak image in a country fighting a drug war, has resigned, paving the way for President Felipe Calderon's top organised crime prosecutor as a successor.

Marisela Morales, nominated by Mr Calderon, would be the first woman to hold the post if she is approved.

Arturo Chavez Chavez, the second attorney general to resign under Mr Calderon, said on Thursday he was leaving to "attend to urgent personal issues". The move came just three weeks after a leaked diplomatic cable said US embassy officials found his appointment in 2009 "politically inexplicable".

"The attorney general's office has been one of the weakest spots in Calderon's strategy in battling organised crime," said Andrew Selee, director of the Washington-based Mexico Institute. "There have been very few successful prosecutions against organised crime groups, those who launder their money and the public authorities who aid and abet them."

Earlier this month Ms Morales was presented with a 2011 Women of Courage Award in Washington by US first lady Michelle Obama and secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

Mr Chavez came into the job only 18 months ago amid criticism for the botched investigations into the murders of women in the 1990s in Ciudad Juarez, where he was the top prosecutor in Chihuahua state.

A September 2009 US embassy cable posted by WikiLeaks three weeks ago called him "a less capable political operator ... stymied by his considerable human rights baggage".

According to numbers obtained by The Associated Press from Chavez's office, the government arrested 226,667 drug suspects between December 2006 and September 2009, and let more than three-quarters of them go. Only 15% of those detained saw a verdict. His office would not say how many were found guilty.

As head of the organised crime unit, Ms Morales made more public appearances in the capture of major drug lords than her boss. Ms Morales, who must be approved by the Mexican Senate, has in her current job prosecuted many key cases in the war on trafficking and organised crime, including corruption charges against some of her colleagues.

More than 34,600 people have been killed in drug-related violence since Mr Calderon's administration launched the campaign shortly after he became president in December 2006.

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