At least 26 people have been killed in a “horrendous” suspected arson attack at a bar in Mexico, in a new blow to government efforts to combat violence.
A further 11 were being treated in hospital after a fire took hold at the venue in the east coast port city of Coatzacoalcos, in Veracruz state.
The blaze happened on Tuesday night at Caballo Blanco table dancing bar, said the state attorney general’s office, which confirmed it was investigating a suspected “malicious attack”.
Some local media said Molotov cocktails were believed to have been thrown at the building. Pictures of the scene showed tables and chairs strewn around the blackened inside of the bar, which is located on a busy street.
An investigation is underway to determine who started the fire, with police, the armed forces and the newly formed national guard involved in hunting the attackers.
Calling the attack “horrendous,” President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Wednesday that the deaths occurred after the suspected gangsters closed the emergency exits of the bar and set fire to it.
Veracruz governor Cuitlahuac Garcia also suggested the arson may have been part of a gang dispute. He said: “In Veracruz, criminal gangs are no longer tolerated.”
The attorney general’s office said it would “expend all the necessary investigative acts to establish, in the first place, if the events are the result of a malicious attack, to ensure that the events to no go unpunished, deploying all the human, technical and material resources that are necessary.”
Veracruz’s Ministry of Public Security said it “condemns the events that took place” and was assisting the hunt for the attackers.
The attack was one of the worst mass killings since Mr Lopez Obrador took office in December, pledging to pacify Mexico by battling corruption. However, the number of murders has continued to rise after hitting record levels in 2018.
While saying he did not want to blame previous governments, Mr Lopez Obrador still pointed to the policies of previous administrations.
“This is the rotten fruit of the economic policy that was imposed, the policy of pillage,” the president said.
Mr Lopez Obrador said that initial investigations indicated some suspects behind the attack had been in custody this year and were later released, criticising the state attorney general, who was appointed by a previous, rival administration.
Reuters contributed to this report
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