Mexican businesses shut to protest teacher blockades
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By Natalie Schachar
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Nearly three thousand Mexican businesses in the southern state of Oaxaca shut their doors on Monday in protest over the government's response to a teachers' union that has blocked roads to reject President Enrique Pena Nieto's education reform.
Mexican industry group Coparmex said up to 7,000 workers, including truckers, taxi drivers and waiters, were not working during the 24-hour stoppage in the state, popular with tourists for its beaches and culture and home to a major oil refinery.
About a thousand people supporting the action gathered in the colonial state capital, Oaxaca City, to protest. Public transport ground to a halt and restaurants closed their doors, said Mario Rodriguez Casasnovas, a spokesman for Coparmex.
Tensions have risen since eight died in clashes with police in Oaxaca in June, with disruptive protests continuing as the government maintains that it will not repeal the reform, while tourism has fallen.
Judi Ilescas Lopez, owner of Parador San Miguel Oaxaca, a boutique hotel in the center of the city, said she closed her doors to pressure the federal government to act.
"We're desperate," she said, adding that the summer occupancy rate has hovered around 20 percent.
The protests come as business groups say members have suffered millions of dollars of losses due to months of blockades by dissident teachers throughout the country, especially in Oaxaca.
Teachers, who believe the education reform will result in large-scale dismissals, say the government has not developed curricula that consider the reality of rural areas.
"We do not accept total responsibility, because we are not listened to," Rogelio Vargas, a leader of Oaxaca's Section 22, a radical faction of the teachers' union, said about the impact of blockades on private business.
Pro-business protesters created a human chain at a fountain in Oaxaca City on Monday before proceeding to the governor's mansion abut one mile (1.6 km) away.
About 1,000 public buses stayed off the roads, said Alejandro Lopez, a member of Por Un Oaxaca en Paz, a civil society organization. That left nearly empty the principle avenue, which is usually packed with traffic.
Coparmex, the industry group, filed for a constitutional injunction against federal authorities last week. It has threatened to stop paying taxes if the government does not act.
"It's not that we will not want to pay, it's that there will be no money to pay," Rodriguez said. "If you have no income you cannot pay tax."
(This story has been refiled to capitalize Oaxaca City in paragraph 10)
(Reporting by Natalie Schachar; Editing by Dan Grebler)
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