Mexican resort area reels from back-to-back shootings

Cancún (Mexico) (AFP) - A tranquil Mexican seaside region reeled Wednesday from two shootings that left nine people dead and shattered the peace in a beach resort area beloved by US and European tourists.

Mexico's so-called "Mayan Riviera" had largely avoided the major drug-related violence plaguing other regions.

But on Tuesday gunmen opened fire on the state prosecutors' office in Cancun, triggering a firefight a day after a murky nightclub shooting in a nearby resort sent music festival-goers fleeing in terror.

Three gunmen and a police officer were killed in the exchange of fire, which unfolded in broad daylight seven kilometers from the Caribbean coast city's hotel district. Five assailants were arrested, said Governor Carlos Joaquin Gonzalez.

The gunfight came just a day after three foreigners and two Mexicans died in a shooting at an electronic music festival in the seaside town of Playa del Carmen.

While it was not known whether the two shootings were linked, the back-to-back attacks broke the peace in a spot beloved by American, Canadian and European tourists that has been spared from the sort of drug-related violence afflicting other parts of Mexico.

Francisco Lopez, the state's secretary general, blamed organized crime and said Tuesday's attack was in reaction to a state campaign against corruption.

"We will not let ourselves be intimidated by these criminal groups that are trying to control the area," he said in an interview with Televisa.

State security chief Rodolfo del Angel said in a video message on Twitter that authorities activated "code red" after the shooting -- a security protocol combining state and federal police and the army.

"At the moment the state is peaceful, the citizens can remain calm, Cancun is doing well at this moment," Angel said.

Local media said authorities set up three checkpoints near the tourist zone.

The US Consulate in Merida issued a security message urging Americans to "follow local authorities' warnings and consult with their hotels before leaving the premises."

- Streets deserted -

Mexican television showed footage in which intense gunfire could be heard. Soldiers and police guarded the prosecutor's office after the shooting.

State attorney general Miguel Angel Pech was not in the building at the time, the spokeswoman for the mayor's office said, adding that the city hall was evacuated as a precautionary measure.

Sandra Ramirez, a 33-year-old maid who lives seven streets away from the prosecutor's office, said she could hear the gunfire and "explosions" woke her up from her nap.

"I went out later and police were reviewing every car that was going by," Ramirez told AFP by telephone.

In the past, she said, "things have happened, a dead person has appeared here or there, but never something like this."

Several stores were closed and the streets were deserted, she said.

A store manager at the Plaza Las Americas shopping center, located at the start of the hotel zone, told AFP on condition of anonymity that shots were heard inside the mall and that people tried to hide in the shops.

"The soldiers came, cordoned off the area and began to evacuate people. They told us that the shots were part of the chase" against the assailants, the manager said.

- Nightclub attack: drug link? -

Meanwhile, authorities were investigating the motive behind Monday's pre-dawn shooting at the Blue Parrot club during the BPM music festival in Playa del Carmen, 68 kilometers to the south.

Pech said a gunman fired five times at a Mexican man at the club and the victim's bodyguards or other people fired back.

When the shooter fled the club, he hit another person who was also armed and whose gun went off when he fell, wounding other people, Pech said.

A Canadian man and an Italian man, both of whom worked for the BPM electronic music festival, plus a Mexican man died from bullet wounds. According to local prosecutors, an additional Mexican person was also killed.

An American woman was trampled to death in a stampede as people fled the club in panic. Fifteen other people were hurt.

Four people were detained but officials have not said if the shooter was among them.

Officials are also investigating whether the incident was linked to a dispute over an extortion racket against the club, or because the dealers were not allowed to sell drugs inside the club.