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Hitmen admit killing 17 of 43 missing Mexican students

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Two gang hitmen linked to police admitted to killing 17 of 43 students missing in southern Mexico, amid fears the victims were among bodies found in a mass grave.

Inaky Blanco, the chief prosecutor of violence-plagued Guerrero state, said Sunday it would take at least 15 days to identify the 28 bodies in the clandestine grave, some of which were badly burned and in pieces.

The site was found Saturday on a hill in Pueblo Viejo, an impoverished district of the city of Iguala, where the missing students were last seen on the night of September 26, some 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Mexico City.

“A bed of branches and tree trunks was made, on which the bodies of the victims were laid and a flammable substance was used,” Blanco said.

The students disappeared after Iguala municipal police officers shot at buses transporting them, and Blanco said the Guerreros Unidos gang participated in a night of violence that left six people dead, 25 wounded and 43 missing.

While the students are accused of having hijacked the buses, Blanco said the motive for the attack remains under investigation.

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The case could become one of the worst slaughters that Mexico has witnessed since the drug war intensified in 2006, leaving 80,000 people dead to date, and the most horrific since President Enrique Pena Nieto took office in December 2012.

Parents hold out hope

Earlier Sunday, some parents and hundreds of fellow students from the missing group’s teacher training college blocked the highway between Guerrero’s capital Chilpancingo and Acapulco, voicing anger at the authorities.

Some of the parents said they were shown pictures of the bodies but that they did not believe that they looked like their children.

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“As parents, we reject this situation. It’s not the youngsters. We know they’re holding them alive,” said Manuel Martinez, whose son is among the missing.

Relatives have given DNA samples to see if they match the bodies in the mass grave, while Blanco said the search for the missing would continue as long as the identities are not confirmed.

Survivors said the students had gone to Iguala to conduct fundraising activities and came under attack by police after they boarded three buses.

In all, three students were killed in the shooting and another three people died in an attack on a football team’s bus outside Iguala later that night. Blanco said police and gang members were involved in both crimes.

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Witnesses say several students, who are from a teacher training college known as a hotbed of radical protests, were whisked away in police vehicles.

It was Iguala’s public security director, Francisco Salgado Valladares, who ordered two gang members to go to the site of the students’ buses, Blanco said.

The two hitmen then received instructions from a Guerreros Unidos leader known as “El Chucky” to take the students and kill them, he said.

The gangsters made the students exit a bus. “They grabbed 17, took them to the top of a hill in Pueblo Viejo where they have clandestine graves and where they say they killed them,” Blanco said.

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‘Land of the wicked’

Authorities have issued arrest warrants for the town’s mayor and security chief, both of whom have disappeared.

Some 30 people have been detained over the shootings, including at least 22 police officers.

Authorities said the mass grave was located following interrogations of the suspects. Soldiers cordoned off the area. Officials said the pit was up a steep hill filled with thick vegetation.

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In Pueblo Viejo, a hamlet surrounded by forests and mountains, a resident said the region is dominated by gangsters and that he had seen municipal police officers going up the hill in recent days, before authorities discovered the mass grave.

“They were going up there back and forth,” said the resident, Jose Garcia, pointing to a location between two mountains where the graves were found. “This is the land of the wicked.”

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US kicks off Mideast plan, with Palestinians boycotting

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After a wait of two and a half years, the US administration is launching its Middle East peace plan Tuesday -- with an economic initiative that the Palestinians are boycotting.

For this most unconventional of US presidents, Donald Trump's Middle East peace-making bid is unlike decades of previous US attempts.

There is no talk of land swaps, a Palestinian state or other political issues that have vexed diplomats for decades.

The Trump administration says it will get to the political issues later.

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FedEx sues US government over shipment restrictions

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American logistics giant FedEx sued the US government on Monday, saying Washington's restrictions on exports and imports due to growing trade disputes and sanctions created an "impossible burden" for delivery firms.

The announcement of the lawsuit comes as Beijing and Washington face off in a trade war that has seen both sides exchange steep tariffs on hundreds of billions in exports.

The US has also sought to bar Chinese telecom giant Huawei from the American market and limit its ability to purchase US technology.

A statement by the delivery firm said the restrictions placed "an unreasonable burden on FedEx to police the millions of shipments that transit our network every day" or face heavy fines.

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2020 Election

New report targets 15 House Democrats who ‘deserve’ progressive primary challengers

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As progressive candidates continue to announce their intentions to oust corporate Democrats, a new report names 15 House Democrats to unseat in primary challenges.

Published Monday by the left-leaning group RootsAction, the new report is entitled Bad Blues: Some of the House Democrats Who Deserve to Be 'Primaried.'

The list, the report notes, "is by no means exhaustive—only illustrative."

"There may well be a Democratic member of Congress near you not included here who serves corporate interests more than majority interests, or has simply grown tired or complacent in the never-ending struggles for social, racial, and economic justice as well as environmental sanity and peace," the report notes. "Perhaps you live in a district where voters are ready to be inspired by a progressive primary candidate because the Democrat in Congress is not up to the job."

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