(NEW YORK) — A chaotic protest of thousands of people unfurled outside Mexico’s Congress on Saturday as Enrique Peña Nieto took the oath of office to become the new president of Mexico.
Peña Nieto takes over leadership of the country from Felipe Calderon of the National Action Party.
The Institutional Revolutionary Party member was sworn in at Mexico’s Congress as a huge police barricade that extended several blocks away from the building kept Peña Nieto’s most vocal opponents away from the site.
In the streets surrounding Mexico’s Congress, union members from as far away as Oaxaca, mingled with middle-aged protesters, and students from the Yo Soy 132 movement. In the early hours of the morning, small groups of protesters wearing bandanas clashed with police, as they attempted to break the barricade that separated them from the Congressional building.
“We are here because there was fraud; these were the dirtiest elections in a long time,” said a young man who had spread a white powder on his face. The powder was made from pepto-bismol mixed with water and intended to help ease the symptoms of tear gas and pepper gas, fired by police to keep protesters away from the barricade.
“I’ve been looking for a job for the past three years,” said the man, who preferred not to provide his name. “With Peña Nieto we will not earn any more than now.”
Peña Nieto’s election back in July was marred by vote-buying accusations. But Mexico’s political class has mostly acccepted his victory, with the exception of leftist Presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
The scene inside Congress was relatively calm, although some lawmakers held signs opposing Peña Nieto and booed the new president as they vocally protested the new leader’s election. It was a far cry from the chaos of 2006, when lawmakers broke into brawls and swarmed the podium in a last minute effort to prevent the incoming President Felipe Calderon from taking oath.
Outside the Congress however, at least three people were injured, and one protester was reportedly in a delicate state after sustaining injuries to the head during confrontations with police. Most protesters outside Mexico’s Congress avoided confrontation with law enforcement.
But smaller groups wearing bandanas on their faces chiseled away at the pavement to get slabs of cement that they threw at police with slingshots. A group of protesters also tore down chunks of a local bus stop, in order to use its materials as weapons and shields. Police fired successive rounds of tear gas and rubber projectiles at protesters, forcing them to retreat fom the barricade. But as the tear gas evaporated, groups made up of a few dozen protesters would approach the barricade again, engaging in a street battle with police.
Oscar Contreras, a local veterinary student, tried to stop one protester from further damaging a bus station that was about five blocks from the police barricade.
“By destroying the city, we are allienating those who we want to convince,” Contreras said, adding that he opposed Peña Nieto, because the new President has talked about privatizing the national oil company, Pemex, and and has suggested that taxes will have to be increased.
¨We cannot pay more taxes,” Contreras said. “Most Mexicans only make two to three times the minimum wage.”
Vice President Joe Biden attended Peña Nieto’s inauguration in Mexico. The new president met with President Obama last week at the White House.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Carma Hassan and Lynn Franco, CNN Newswire
Joshua Berlinger and Kevin Wang, CNN Newswire