2,000 protest for Mexican drug lord's release

Thursday 27 February 2014 10.41
Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin Guzman Loera aka 'el Chapo Guzman', is escorted by marines as he is presented to the press
Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin Guzman Loera aka 'el Chapo Guzman', is escorted by marines as he is presented to the press

Up to 2,000 people have demonstrated in support of Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman in his northwestern home state, chanting "release him" following his weekend arrest.

Dressed in white and accompanied by a folk band, the protesters marched in the Sinaloa state capital of Culiacan before some 200 police officers dispersed them.

One young man was injured in the head amid a shoving match.

In Mexico City, federal prosecutors filed new organized crime charges against the Sinaloa cartel leader, who has been held in the country's highest-security prison near the capital since his arrest Saturday.

The march, which included men, women and students, began in a church on a hilltop overlooking Culiacan and culminated in front of the city's town hall amid shouts of "Viva El Chapo."

One sign held by the protesters read: "Joaquin Guzman gave jobs, not like you corrupt politicians."

One of those protesting, from Culiacan's blue-collar district of Las Coloradas, said "El Chapo helps companies that support those in need."

"El Chapo prevents other rival cartels from entering Sinaloa," said the 30-year-old woman, who refused to give her name.

Anonymous fliers were found throughout the city earlier in the day, calling on residents to demonstrate for "the release of El Chapo, hero of Sinaloa."

Although "narcocultura" - the veneration of drug cartels through song and film - runs deep in Sinaloa, it was the first known protest in favour of Guzman in the city of 675,000 people.

As people marched, drivers raised the volume in their cars to blast the sounds of "narcocorridos," or folk ballads that have been composed in his honour.

Messages of support for the 56-year-old cartel leader appeared on Twitter, too, with the hashtag #ILoveChapo.

Mexican marines had nearly captured Guzman in one of his Culiacan homes a week earlier, but he fled through a tunnel hidden under a bathtub that was connected to the city's drainage system.

The marines, backed by intelligence provided by the US Drug Enforcement Administration, found Guzman further south in the resort of Mazatlan.

He was staying with his beauty-queen wife and two-year-old twin daughters in a condominium when he was arrested without a shot being fired after 13 years on the run.

Federal judges ordered that Guzman face trial on organized crime and drug trafficking charges.

US prosecutors plan to seek his extradition.

The attorney general's office announced that it was pursuing additional charges of organized crime, drug trafficking, bribery and possession of illegal weapons.

A man described as his "personal assistant," Carlos Manuel Hoo Ramirez, was charged with illegally carrying an assault rifle reserved for military use when he was arrested with his boss.

Guzman was among 12 people detained in an operation against the cartel between 11-22 February, the attorney general's office said in a statement.

The operation netted 133 firearms, 311 cartridges, two grenade launchers, one rocket launcher, two rockets, two explosives, nine grenades, 43 vehicles and 14 homes.

Authorities seized 3.1 tonnes of methamphetamine, 82.2kgs of cocaine and 25.6kgs of marijuana.