A priest has been found shot dead in Mexico, officials have said, marking the latest in a series of violent incidents against Roman Catholic clerics in an area of southern Guerrero state dominated by drug cartels.

Reverend Gregorio Lopez Gorostieta is the third Catholic priest killed in the region this year, and the first to die since the federal government launched a thorough security operation in the area following the disappearance of 43 college students three months ago.

 

The motive for Lopez Gorostieta's killing remains unclear.

Bishop Maximino Martinez from Gorostieta's church said a group had been seen lurking around the seminary where the priest taught in the outskirts of Ciudad Altamirano, Guerrero, on Sunday and Monday.

Gorostieta was apparently kidnapped by gang members early on Monday and his truck was found abandoned two days later.

"Enough already of so much pain, of so many murders. Enough already of so much crime. Enough extortions,'' Bishop Martinez said, according to the Associated Press news agency.

Martinez was apparently referring to the "protection payments'' that the local drug gang, the Knights Templar, demand from business owners in Ciudad Altamirano.

One business owner, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals, told AP that his family had been forced to pay high amounts of money each year to the gang for the right to operate a pharmacy.


BLOG: Reign of terror in Mexico


The church members in the area said gangs had also demanded protection payments from parish priests in the nearby resort city of Acapulco.

However, Bishop Martinez said there are other motives to attack priests. Priests have received threats when they refuse to perform quickie marriages or baptisms for drug gang members, he said.

The church normally requires extensive paperwork before performing such ceremonies.

Prostests for missing students

Meanwhile, thousands people have taken to the streets of central Mexico City, three months after the disappearance 43 students presumed massacred.

Al Jazeera's David Mercer reports on the video made by the parents of 43 missing students in Mexico

The students went missing on September 26, sparking nationwide protests and a crisis for President Enrique Pena Nieto.

The latest marches in Mexico City were led by parents and other relatives and friends of the missing. The protesters included students from the training college in southern Guerrero state where the missing students studied.

"We want them alive," protesters chanted, walking behind gigantic portraits of the missing students and a huge Mexican flag whose red and green colours were replaced by black.

If all the students are confirmed dead, it would rank among the worst mass murders in a drug war that has killed more than 80,000 people and left 22,000 others missing since 2006 in Mexico.

Authorities say the students vanished after gang-linked police attacked their buses in the city of Iguala, allegedly under orders from the mayor and his wife.



The police then delivered the young men to members of the Guerreros Unidos drug gang, who told investigators they took them in two trucks to a landfill, killed them, burned their bodies and dumped them in a river.

For now, only one of the students has been positively identified from charred remains, which leaves little hope of finding the 42 others.

Source: Agencies