Mexico launches new police force to fight drug gangs

Mexico launches new police force to fight drug gangs
Members of the Mexican National Gendarmerie, a new group of the Federal Police, take part in its beginning of operations, on August 22, 2014 in Mexico City.

MEXICO CITY - Mexico launched a new 5,000-member national police force Friday tasked with protecting key sectors of the economy from drug gangs and other organised crime.

"This new division is prepared to protect... (regions) where the worst institutional weaknesses exist," President Enrique Pena Nieto said at a press conference unveiling the new force.

The Federal Police Gendarmerie Division is modeled after gendarme forces in Europe and elsewhere, which act as civilian police forces but with military-style tactics and training.

Its launch fulfills a key campaign pledge by Pena Nieto, who says bringing anti-drug policing back under civilian command will help curb spiraling violence that has killed more than 80,000 people since the government began using the military to fight drug gangs in 2006.

It will be deployed in rural areas to protect businesses and farmers from extortion rackets and kidnapping by drug gangs, which have diversified their criminal activities in recent years, sometimes with the help of corrupt local officials.

The move comes on the heels of sweeping energy-sector reforms that Pena Nieto signed into law on August 11 ending the state's 76-year-old monopoly on oil drilling and reopening the sector to foreign companies.

One of the new force's key jobs will be protecting foreign oil installations, said national security commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido.

The government said 130,000 people had applied for the 5,000 new posts.

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