Latin America & Caribbean

Mexico row as religious sect blocks schooling access

Women wearing the clothes required by the dressing code of the New Jerusalem religious community in Michoacan state, Mexico.
Image caption Members of the sect live by strict rules governing how they behave and dress

An official in Mexico's Michoacan state says he has made progress in negotiations with a religious sect that has been blocking access to schools.

Local authorities are calling for a police operation to end the blockade by the New Jerusalem community, which is affecting more then 200 children.

The community objects to formal schooling on religious grounds.

Government Secretary Jesus Reyna told Mexican media that community leaders had agreed to end the stand-off.

Members of the group in the town of Turicato have been physically blocking teachers from attending their walled compound since the start of the new school year on Monday.

Church supporters engaged in fist fights on Monday with other locals who wanted their children to attend other schools.

In July, they attacked and damaged two school buildings.

Mr Reyna said that the authorities must come to an agreement with the local community.

"If I wanted, I could make sure classes began tomorrow, with police presence around the school," he said.

"But you cannot carry on like that throughout the school year."

The religious sect was founded in 1973 by a defrocked priest, who objected to changes in the Catholic Church, including the end of masses in Latin.

They believe their compound will be the only place on Earth spared from an impending apocalypse.

The Mexican Bishops Council said in a statement on Tuesday that every child had the right to attend classes in government-provided education.