MORELIA, Mexico — A peace march called by local authorities in western Mexico turned into a show of support for a slain drug lord Sunday, with adults and children carrying signs lauding the capo known for handing out Bibles to the poor.
Hundreds of people turned out for the march in Apatzingan, the birthplace of La Familia cartel leader Nazario Moreno, who reputedly indoctrinated his gang members in pseudo-Christian ideology.
The government says Moreno was killed in Apatzingan on Thursday in a shootout with federal police. The hunt for Moreno and other La Familia leaders set off two days of battles in key parts of Michoacan state, with cartel gunmen using torched cars and buses to blockade highways. At least 11 other people were killed, including a baby and a teenage girl.
The Apatzingan government convoked the march to call for peace and demand that federal troops and police leave the city. But local officials quickly distanced themselves from the event after people showed up with the pro-Moreno signs.
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La Familia burst into national prominence in 2006 by rolling five severed heads into a nightclub in the mountain town of Uruapan and proclaiming its intention to protect Michoacan from other cartels and petty criminals.
President Felipe Calderon, who was born in Michoacan, responded by deploying thousands of federal troops and police into Michoacan, vowing to crush a cartel that he warned was corrupting local officials, extorting businesses and growing in power.
La Familia distinguished itself from other cartels by making public proclamations, including a telephone interview with local media last year with its reputed No. 2, Servando Gomez Martinez, who remains at large.
But the march Sunday was one of clearest indications yet of popular sympathy for the cartel, which also gained a reputation as one of Mexico's most brutal, staging bold attacks on government security forces.