Latin America & Caribbean

Mexico enjoys bicentennial fiesta to mark independence

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Media captionA spectacular fireworks display lit up Mexico City

Mexicans have celebrated 200 years of independence from Spain with events and parties across the country.

In Mexico City, where President Felipe Calderon led the festivities, crowds watched a huge parade and fireworks.

But security was tight, with 14,000 police officers on hand, amid fears that drug cartels could launch attacks.

Hundreds of other celebrations took place across the country, but some communities cancelled events after cartels threatened to disrupt them.

Mexico declared independence from Spain in 1810, but became embroiled in a war with its colonial ruler until 1821, when Madrid finally recognised the new nation.

'Living in fear'

The festivities in the capital kicked off with a group of shamans dressed in white robes and feathers carrying out a pre-Hispanic fire ritual.

Huge crowds gathered in the main square for hours of light shows, song and dance performances and firework displays.

A 20m (65ft) warrior statue was erected in the centre of the capital, towering above the revellers.

Away from the city centre people celebrated in their neighbourhoods with rooftop parties and their own fireworks displays.

Millions of people took part in other events across the country.

But correspondents say the run-up to the events has been marred by accusations of overspending, bad planning and security concerns.

Heavily armed agents carrying metal detectors were deployed for the capital's celebrations and helicopters provided added security.

"In Mexico, we all live in fear. And the worst part is that we are starting to get used to it," Eric Limon, a dancer in the Mexico City parade, told the Associated Press.

"I want to be part of something important. I know this won't solve our problems, but this is my grain of sand to create a sense of unity. This is what Mexico needs."

The 'grito'

After the massive parade, the climax of the celebrations was the annual "grito" (shout of independence) delivered by Mr Calderon, which was broadcast across the country.

The shout is an echo of the battle cry of Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo, who began the 1810 uprising.

Local leaders and Mexican citizens shouted "Viva Mexico" in response.

However, the grito cry by the mayor of Ciudad Juarez was made behind closed doors this year.

The city, close to the Texan border, is the centre of the drug-related violence that has left 28,000 people dead in Mexico since 2006.

Guadalupe, east of Ciudad Juarez, cancelled all of its celebrations.

Security was also tight in Morelia, in the president's home state of Michoacan, where eight people were killed in a grenade attack on Independence Day in 2008. The central square remained largely closed off.

A number of towns in the northern states of Chihuahua and Tamaulipas, and in Guerrero in the south, also cancelled festivities.

"This is not a time to celebrate, but to lament," said Victor Quintana, a left-wing politician in Chihuahua.

The BBC's Julian Miglierini, in Mexico City, says the bill for the celebrations - $230m (£148m) - has caused concern among many Mexicans.

A survey in the Reforma newspaper suggested eight out of 10 residents of Mexico City thought too much was being spent.

Given the number of deaths in the drug-related violence, our correspondent says many Mexicans think there is simply not much to celebrate.

Issues such as poverty, migration to the US and the country's reliance on the US economy for its own development have all added to the mixed emotions says our correspondent.

But the national discussion opened by the bicentenary has given Mexicans a chance to talk about what the country is - and what it wants to be, he adds.

On Thursday, foreign heads of state will attend an annual parade on Mexico City's Reforma avenue and Zocalo square.

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