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State capital building burned in Mexico during angry protest over missing students

Masked demonstrators protesting the disappearance of 43 students in the Pacific coast state of Guerrero late last month set fire Monday to the state’s government headquarters after fierce clashes with riot police.

Some 600 protesters in Chilpancingo, Guerrero’s capital, began their siege of the headquarters at around noon. As clashes with riot police wore on, the protesters allowed women employees to leave the modernist structure around 3 p.m., then later forced the remaining employees to leave. Some protesters ran through the building breaking windows, news reports said.

By late afternoon, huge flames erupted from the glass-fronted building. A snack truck parked nearby erupted in flames, hit by a Molotov cocktail.

The news portal said five teams of firefighters were battling the blaze. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

As a federal police helicopter flew over the building, protesters fired bottle rockets at it. They later fled the government compound aboard waiting buses.

The unrest was the worst since the events of Sept. 26 in the city of Iguala, where more than 100 students from the Ayotzinapa teachers college arrived to solicit funds, only to find police firing at their commandeered buses. Six students were killed, some 20 wounded, and 43 taken into police custody, only to vanish.

Days later, authorities found mass graves outside the city but so far they have not determined through DNA testing if 28 bodies found in them belong to any of the missing students.

In Mexico City, students at two universities called a two-day sympathy strike starting Tuesday to demand that the 43 missing students be returned alive. The strike may shut both the Autonomous National University of Mexico – with more than 200,000 students, Latin America’s largest – and the Autonomous Metropolitan University.

In the two weeks since the disappearance of the students, a political crisis has engulfed the opposition leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, known by its Spanish initials as the PRD, which holds the governor’s office in Guerrero. The mayor of Iguala, who is accused of links to an organized crime group and is now on the run, was also elected on a PRD ticket.

The political crisis and related unrest shows no signs of slowing.

News reports say student teachers in Michoacan, a state neighboring Guerrero, commandeered 21 buses to carry protesters to Chilpancingo to join the student uprising.

Police in the city, some 30 miles north of the Pacific resort of Acapulco, are on edge. Over the weekend, they fired at a van carrying students, mistaking it for what they said was a band of kidnappers. The shooting left a German exchange student wounded in the buttocks, according to the National Human Rights Commission.

The incident could have turned into a greater international embarrassment for Mexico. Also aboard the bus were two French students, another German as well as six Mexican students.