By Ken Ellingwood
Los Angeles Times
MEXICO CITY - Bearing white balloons and fake bloodstains, tens of thousands of demonstrators crowded Mexico City's historic downtown Sunday to call for an end to the country's unrelenting drug violence.
The primary target of the protest was President Felipe Calderon, who has ruled during a period of extraordinary bloodshed. More than 34,000 people have been killed since Calderon declared an all-out assault on drug cartels after taking office 4 ½ years ago.
Demonstrators, holding placards saying "No more blood!" and "We're fed up!", urged the conservative Calderon to drop his military-led strategy.
"Mexicans can't take more of this fear. This country is overwhelmed by violence as never before," said Maricarmen Luna, a 36-year-old teacher, as she marched toward the main plaza, or Zocalo.
Mexican media cited Mexico City police estimates of 90,000 in the plaza, though organizers put the number at more than double that.
The gathering was led by poet Javier Sicilia, whose 24-year-old son and six other people were seized and slain by gunmen in Cuernavaca in March. Since then, the elder Sicilia has been a frequent presence on Mexican television, criticizing Mexican leaders across party lines and labeling the drug war a failure.
Sicilia drew applause when he called for the resignation of Mexico's public safety secretary, Genaro Garcia Luna.
"No more deaths! No more hatred!" Sicilia said.
Although protests are frequent in the clamorous capital, this demonstration has dominated headlines. Mexican media tracked Sicilia and a core group of several hundred marchers who set out Thursday from the city of Cuernavaca, about 60 miles south.
By Sunday, the gathering had grown into a happening, with room for just about anyone who had a strong opinion. Along with left-leaning political activists, the crowd included peace-minded school groups, disgruntled electrical workers, advocates of women's rights, critics of neo-liberal economics, drum groups and hula-hoop dancers.
Many banners decried corruption and impunity, two of the country's most oft-cited problems. One youngster held a sign slamming "mediocre teachers." A day earlier, youths went around dumping red paint in fountains in and around downtown to symbolize the bloodshed.