By Ana Isabel Martinez and Adriana Barrera
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -An International Women’s Day rally in Mexico drew mass protests against violence on Tuesday, with marches in the capital passing by the presidential palace and national monuments that had been cordoned off with huge metal fences amid fears of unrest.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who has been accused of not doing enough to stem the rise in femicides, urged calm while warning that the protests could turn violent.
Mexico City police said they seized Molotov cocktails, weapons such as bats and hammers and fireworks from protesters in the afternoon.
Local media also reported two protesters belonging to the so-called black bloc were injured after swinging at a glass bus stop, which came crashing down on top of them.
Mexican authorities had erected a protective metal barrier around the National Palace, the seat of government where the presidential family lives, and other historic buildings ahead of the protests.
“MEXICO FEMICIDE” was daubed in towering white letters on the black metal cordon in front of the Palace, which faces the Zocalo main square, the stage for many major demonstrations.
Mexico recorded 969 femicides last year, up slightly from 949 in 2020, according to government figures.
But activists say the true figures are likely much higher, and some estimate 10 women a day are murdered because of their gender.
A group of protesters chanted “Women united, will never be defeated,” as they arrived near the National Palace, waving white flags.
Others, donned in purple bandanas for the region’s feminist movement or green in support of abortion rights, marched down one of Mexico City’s main avenues holding banners and posters with feminist slogans.
Frida Moreno, a 21-year-old student who said abusive teachers scarred her upbringing, believed she felt duty-bound to march so other young girls would be spared similar experiences.
“Although I feel privileged because I live in a safe area, no one can guarantee that one day I will not disappear … and appear in a vacant lot dead, raped,” said Moreno, on the verge of tears.
Lopez Obrador, who appointed women to half his Cabinet posts, rejects claims by activists that he is not interested in tackling femicides, saying progress has been made to defend women’s rights.
Asked on Tuesday morning if protests could be violent, as one government official had predicted, Lopez Obrador nodded.
“There is infiltration of the feminist movement in general by conservative groups,” he said, noting it was wrong “to use violence for political purposes.”
The Mexico City government had said it would deploy dozens of paramedics as well as an all-female police force.
(Reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez and Adriana Barrera in Mexico CityAdditional reporting by Kylie Madry and Lizbeth Diaz and Mexico CityEditing by Drazen Jorgic, Richard Chang and Matthew Lewis)