MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Sunday his 7-month-old government had yet to make progress in tackling record levels of violence afflicting the country as he launched a new militarised police force tasked with fixing the problem.
Formally inaugurating the new National Guard, veteran leftist Lopez Obrador blamed the economic policies of previous administrations for exacerbating the violence and said his government was rooting out corruption and inequality in Mexico.
"But we still have to resolve the serious problem of insecurity and violence," the president said in an address to thousands of new National Guard members standing in formation in the Campo Marte (Field of Mars) of central Mexico City.
"We can't say there that there's been progress. Unfortunately, the same conditions prevail that we inherited from previous governments in terms of insecurity and violence."
Lopez Obrador took office in December 2018, and last year the country registered nearly 29,000 murder investigations, many fuelled by brutal turf wars between powerful drug gangs.
There were 14,505 murder probes in the first six months of the Lopez Obrador administration, 5.4% more than in the same period a year earlier, official data show. Nevertheless, the totals registered in April and May were lower than in 2018.
The National Guard would deploy 70,000 members during the first phase of its introduction and gradually rise to 150,000 units across Mexico, the president said.
The guard has already stirred controversy, and the president's decision to deploy it to police Mexico's borders against illegal immigration met with criticism from within his own National Regeneration Movement party.
After U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to put tariffs on all Mexican exports to the United States if Mexico did not contain migrant flows, Lopez Obrador agreed to send the National Guard to police northern and southern Mexico.
Created by a constitutional change, the National Guard has been assembled fast, drawing on members of the armed forces and federal police, who have often been implicated in abuses during ongoing efforts to subdue the gang violence.
The proposed size of the force has crept up over time and its roll-out has fuelled concerns that Lopez Obrador will increase the militarization of law enforcement in Mexico.
In his speech, the president said civilians would not be massacred or repressed, and that rights would be respected.
"If we manage this, and I'm sure we will," he said, "we'll soon deliver good results to the Mexican people."
(Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)