Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Mexican drug war city offers police-escorted tours

Tiscali News

Nuevo Laredo, Mexico (Reuters) - A Mexican city at the heart of a raging drug war is trying to woo back jittery Texan day trippers by offering free bus tours with an armed police escort.

"The aim is to shake off the bad image that we have and give a boost to the craft markets and restaurants in the centre, where business is almost nil," Nuevo Laredo’s tourism director Ramon Garza told Reuters on Wednesday.

The tourist board in the city, which is across the Rio Grande from Laredo, Texas, is sending charter buses to pick up tourists from San Antonio for day tours escorted by guides and police motorcycle outriders.

The three-times-a-week service began in mid-August and comes after more than 115 people have been gunned down in the Nuevo Laredo this year as rival drug gangs battle for control of the lucrative cross-border trade in cocaine, marijuana and heroin.

The escorted visits are being welcomed by traders in the sweltering border city, where several bars and tourist trinket shops have closed since the troubles began last year.

"Tourists think that gangs are waiting to pick them off as soon as they come over the bridge, so anything that the authorities do to challenge that is welcome," trinket stall holder Pedro Rivera told Reuters at an empty craft market.

Washington has issued repeated travel warnings urging U.S. visitors to stay away from crime-wracked Mexican border cities this year, singling out Nuevo Laredo, where more than 40 U.S. citizens have been kidnapped in the past year, for special mention.

The United States shut its consulate in the city for a week early this month after drug gangs fired bazookas and raked each other with machine gun fire in a street battle.


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