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Mexican president says government not talking with criminal gangs


MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Wednesday said his nine-month-old administration's efforts to bring down record rates of violent crime do not include talks with criminal gangs or armed self-defense groups.

On Tuesday, Mexico's interior minister told reporters the government was holding talks with "various groups" in states hard hit by violence, in response to a question about organized criminals. She later clarified that she was referring to self-defense groups.

Murder rates jumped to the highest rate on record in the first half of 2019 in Mexico, according to official data, underscoring the challenge faced by Lopez Obrador's government. The veteran leftist took office promising to reduce rampant violence, and blames its persistence on the economic policies of previous administrations.

"We are not talking with members of organized crime groups," Lopez Obrador told reporters at his regular morning news conference. He added that the government will not "promote" the self-defense groups that have formed across Mexico.

"Public security has to be guaranteed by the state," the president said.

(Reporting by Rebekah F Ward, David Alire Garcia and Diego Oré; Editing by David Gregorio)

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