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Mexico's Calderón defends drug war, but others not so sure

MEXICO CITY - Gunmen slaughter 19 men at a rehab clinic. Sixteen bodies are dumped in a northern city. Twelve police officers die in an ambush. Soldiers kill 15 gunmen outside a tourist town.

All this in less than a week, yet President Felipe Calderón believes Mexico is getting a bad rap and wants to hire a public relations firm to improve its image. His own countrymen are frustrated by assurances that the drug war is going well.

"No matter how much the authorities want us to believe that they are winning this fight, the reality and the perception is that, on the contrary, it's a lost battle," said Miguel Jimenez, 21, a student in Morelia, the capital of Calderón's drug-plagued home state of Michoacan. "Day after day, it's demonstrated with the increasing violence."

Calderón passionately defended his military-led offensive against cartels this week, pledging not to withdraw the thousands of soldiers and federal police battling gangs across the country. He acknowledged that violence has surged, often claiming innocent lives, but insisted it was a war worth fighting and that things are going as planned.

"The strategy is advancing in the necessary direction that was established from the start," he wrote in a long essay posted on his office's website this week.

Calderón said cartels are infiltrating every walk of Mexican life, from police and politics to businesses cowed by extortion demands. He insisted there is no choice but to fight them. If there is more violence, he said, it is because drug cartels are reeling and splintered. And his government is embarking on long-term solutions, including U.S.-backed training of thousands of police and prosecutors in modern investigative techniques. - AP

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