Mexico forces kill La Familia drugs baron in Michoacan

Mexican federal police officers stand by a burning blockade set up by drug cartel gunmen in the western state of Michoacan Michoacan state has been racked by two days of violence

Mexican security forces say they have shot dead a notorious drug baron in the western state of Michoacan.

Nazario Moreno Gonzalez - dubbed The Craziest One - was a leader of the drug cartel known as La Familia.

He was killed during fierce fighting between security forces and cartel gunmen near the town of Apatzingan.

La Familia has a reputation for extreme violence but also claims to protect local communities and promote family and religious values.

For two days, hundreds of Mexican police and troops backed by helicopters have been involved in gun battles with drug cartel gunmen across large areas of Michoacan.

At least five police officers and three other suspected cartel members were shot dead.

Three civilians were also killed, including an eight-month-old baby apparently caught in the crossfire.

"Diverse pieces of information obtained during the raid all indicate that Nazario Moreno Gonzalez was killed yesterday," national security spokesman Alejandro Poire said on Friday.

Nazario Moreno is considered the spiritual leader of La Familia cartel, says the BBC's Ignacio de los Reyes in Mexico City.

He was the author of a book known as The Family Bible that was used to train new recruits.

The Mexican government said his death was a severe blow to the cartel.

Burning barricades

The upsurge in violence in Michoacan started on Wednesday when police moved into Apatzingan - a stronghold of La Familia - to search for cartel leaders.

Residents described intense fighting, with cartel gunmen exchanging fire with military helicopters.

The violence spread to other parts of Michoacan, with gunmen blockading roads around the state capital Morelia with burning vehicles.

Mr Moreno is the latest high-profile suspected drugs baron to be captured or killed by the Mexican authorities in recent months.

His death will be a boost for President Felipe Calderon - a native of Michoacan - whose determination to tackle the drugs gangs by military means has come under criticism.

More than 30,000 people have died in drug-related violence since Mr Calderon began deploying troops to fight the cartels four years ago.

La Familia Michoacana is involved in cocaine smuggling to the US along Mexico's Pacific coast as well as the production of the synthetic drug, methamphetamine.

In recent months the gang has come under growing pressure from the Mexican authorities, with several suspected leaders captured.

It has also been involved in bloody territorial wars with rival cartels.

The cartel was recently reported to have offered to negotiate a truce with the government and disband.

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