Sunday, November 13, 2011

Mexican interior minister killed in helicopter crash (Reuters)

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) ? Mexican Interior Minister Francisco Blake was killed in a helicopter crash on Friday, a blow to the government as it fights powerful drug cartels.

Television images showed the scattered wreckage of the helicopter on a hillside south of the capital and the government confirmed Blake and the seven others on board were killed. It gave no reason for the crash.

Mexico is locked in a brutal conflict against drug cartels that has killed 45,000 people in the last five years and Blake was a key member of President Felipe Calderon's security team.

Mexico City mayor Marcelo Ebrard said bad weather may have been responsible for the crash. Speculation could arise that foul play was involved but there has been no indication of this so far.

He is the second interior minister in Calderon's presidency to be killed in an aircraft crash. The previous one three years earlier was declared an accident.

As interior minister, Blake was responsible for helping Calderon implement his strategy against drug gangs, as well as negotiating with opposition parties in Congress. Lawmakers held a minute's silence as a mark of respect for Blake.

Mexico's peso and its IPC stock index lost ground on Friday after Blake's death.

Calderon's presidency has been dominated by his decision to send in the army against drug gangs shortly after he took office in December 2006.

The president canceled his appointments for the day and called off a planned trip to Hawaii where he was due to take part in an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.

The soaring death toll has battered support for the ruling National Action Party, or PAN, ahead of a presidential election next July, and this year dragged down Calderon's approval ratings to their lowest levels of his term.

Born in Tijuana on Mexico's border with the United States, Blake trained as a lawyer and served as a deputy for his home state of Baja California before joining the government.

"There is great sadness, firstly for the loss of a great friend, but also because this is a very severe blow in the midst of a war against criminals inside Mexico," said Socrates Bastida, a leader of the PAN in Baja California.

On November 4 2008, then interior minister Juan Camilo Mourino and several others died when their small plane crashed next to a major Mexico City boulevard during rush hour.

Investigators concluded that Mourino's plane had been flying too close to a much bigger jet plane ahead of it on the flight path to land at Mexico City airport, possibly causing a fatal wave of turbulence.

Blake took office in July 2010, the fourth man to serve as interior minister under Calderon.

The last tweet on Blake's twitter account was on November 4, when he paid tribute to Mourino.

"Today we remember Juan Camilo Mourino three years after his passing, a human being who worked toward the creation of a better Mexico," Blake said.

(Additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz, Veronica Gomez and Rachel Uranga, writing by Dave Graham, Editing by Kieran Murray)


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