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Mexico City (AFP) - Looting broke out at dozens of stores in Mexico on the sidelines of protests against a steep gasoline price increase as authorities detained more than 200 people.
Mexicans have blocked service stations, disrupted highway traffic and staged protests since the government increased fuel prices by 20.1 percent on January 1.
Vandalism and looting erupted amid the rising tension, prompting Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong to instruct the National Security Commission to support local authorities.
The National Association of Self-Service and Department Stores said 79 shops were looted while access to more than 170 was blocked, mainly in the state of Mexico, the capital, the central state of Hidalgo and the western state of Michoacan.
The government of the state of Mexico, which surrounds the capital, said in a statement that 161 people, including 35 minors, were detained for "various acts of vandalism and thefts at shops" in six municipalities.
The statement said "some groups of people have seized on the situation to commit thefts and acts of vandalism under the pretext of protesting the liberalization of the price of gasoline."
Media images showed people using motorcycles and pick-up trucks to steal goods.
Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera told the Televisa network that 23 shops were looted in the capital and 64 people were detained.
Some shops closed in the afternoon, but city secretary general Patricia Mercado told local radio "there's no need for that" as she vowed to police would prevent further vandalism.
Federal police said 20 new protests and roadblocks have been reported in various parts of the country on Wednesday.
State energy company Pemex warned on Tuesday that the blockades were affecting the distribution of fuel and that it had reached a "critical situation" in the northern states of Chihuahua and Durango and the central state of Morelos.
President Enrique Pena Nieto defended the price increase, saying it was necessary due to a rise in global oil prices.
"I understand the irritation and anger among the population in general," he said, arguing that not increasing the prices would have been more painful for the economy.
The government says the increase is a first step before letting the market dictate how much drivers will pay in March as part of a sweeping energy reform.