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Originally published October 13, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 13, 2007 at 2:02 AM

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Mexico City ousts street vendors

More than 1,000 police officers in riot gear blocked street vendors from setting up stands selling knockoff purses and pirated DVDs Friday...

The Associated Press

MEXICO CITY — More than 1,000 police officers in riot gear blocked street vendors from setting up stands selling knockoff purses and pirated DVDs Friday, clearing Mexico City's clogged historic center for the first time in more than a decade.

The removal of vendors from 87 downtown streets was peaceful — at least a temporary victory for leftist Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, who is widely believed to have presidential ambitions.

Like dozens of mayors before him, Ebrard has promised to take back public spaces and improve the quality of life in the city of 8.5 million.

The Mexico City Chamber of Commerce estimates there are 35,000 vendors in the downtown area alone, including those who hawk amber jewelry and brightly embroidered blouses to tourists in the main Zocalo square.

Jose Angel Avila, Mexico City's government secretary, said about 15,000 street vendors were removed from the heart of downtown Friday.

But vendors warn they will be back when the holiday shopping season begins in November, renewing a conflict that dates back centuries.

Street vendors are a tradition dating back to pre-Hispanic times in Mexico. Today, vendors sell everything from food to car parts.

A worn marble plaque, installed in 1673 on a convent that now serves as a jewelry store, warns vendors to keep off its street corner or face reprisals from the government of "New Spain."

While the city will grant vendors a brief reprieve at Christmas, allowing them to return to sell to holiday shoppers, they are supposed to leave after the New Year and relocate to government-subsidized properties nearby.

But many vendors say they won't go. Represented by large unions, they argue the designated properties offered by the city won't attract customers.

"They are not thinking about the fact that these people don't have jobs," Alejandra Barrios, president of a high-profile vendors union, told W Radio. "What do they think these people will do?"

Susana Reyes, 40, a clothing-store clerk, welcomed the calm walk to work on a street that previously was clogged with shoppers and sellers.

"Because of them, it has taken me and my co-workers up to three hours to drive through four streets," she said.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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