Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Mexico interior minister killed in plane crash

Reporting from Mexico City -- The second-highest official in Mexico's government was killed Tuesday night aboard an airplane that crashed into rush-hour traffic in the capital and exploded.

Officials said Interior Minister Juan Camilo Mouriño, right-hand man to President Felipe Calderon, was among eight people on board who died when the aircraft went down in a section of the Paseo de la Reforma, a scenic artery that cuts across the city.

At least 40 people were hurt as the explosion set fire to cars densely packed in slow traffic.

Officials said the crash appeared to have been an accident.

Also killed was Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, a presidential advisor who formerly headed the organized-crime unit in the federal attorney general's office.

Mouriño, 37, who had broad authority over many aspects of Mexico's government, was a rising star in the conservative National Action Party. His name had been floated as a possible heir apparent to the conservative president, who took office in 2006 for a six-year term.

Mouriño was named interior minister in January. He oversaw a wide array of government functions, including domestic security and immigration, and was Calderon's liaison to Congress.

Leftist critics had called for his resignation over charges that he acted improperly by signing government contracts in behalf of his family's gasoline business while serving in a previous post as a top energy official.

Santiago Vasconcelos was a presidential advisor on security and criminal justice. He ran the organized-crime unit before his resignation in August.

Last week, the government announced that the unit appeared to have been infiltrated by a drug trafficking gang in the western state of Sinaloa. At least 35 agency officials were fired or arrested as part of an inquiry that began in July. Santiago Vasconcelos had not been accused of any wrongdoing.

The flight was returning from a Calderon event in the central state of San Luis Potosi. The president arrived after the crash, which occurred less than two miles from the presidential headquarters.

Ellingwood is a Times staff writer.

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