|Mexican police stand near the corpses of Gustavo Cervantes, interim mayor of Tancitero, Mexico, and his secretary: Stringer/Reuters|
(Reuters) - When criminals beat small-town mayor Gustavo Sanchez to death with rocks this week, Mexicans were horrified but no longer shocked by the latest attack on a local leader in the country's vicious drugs war.
The slaying of Sanchez, which police blamed on drug hitmen in marijuana-producing Michoacan state, underscored the vulnerability of elected officials as President Felipe Calderon intensifies his fight against powerful drug cartels.
Last week, suspected drug hitmen shot and killed the mayor of a rural town outside Monterrey, the northern business city with close U.S. ties. Another shooting hours later left a mayor-elect in northern Chihuahua state critically wounded.
Drug hitmen have killed at least 17 mayors across Mexico since early 2008, according to media tallies. Five of those have died in the past six weeks as gangs seek to control towns along key smuggling routes into the United States.
"They've threatened to kill me twice. They wanted me out of the way to have total control," said Mauricio Fernandez, the mayor of San Pedro Garza Garcia near the Texas border, the country's richest municipality that is part of Monterrey.
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