Funeral for slain Mexican reporter amid demands for justice

Culiacán (Mexico) (AFP) - Friends and family have paid their final respects to slain journalist Javier Valdez, who apparently paid with his life for his award-winning reporting on the country's violent drug gangs.

Media and rights groups protested earlier Tuesday to demand the Mexican government catch the killers of the fifth and most high-profile journalist murdered this year in the country's drug-trafficking ganglands.

The front pages of major newspapers displayed portraits of the martyred Valdez, 50, an Agence France-Presse contributor who was shot dead in broad daylight on Monday in northwestern Sinaloa state.

Journalists took part in a demonstration in downtown Culiacan carrying pictures of Valdez on Tuesday.

Later on Tuesday, the same day Valdez was cremated, friends and loved ones paid their respects at a funeral service. Relatives said his ashes will be interred at a cemetery in Culiacan.

The awarding-winning journalist was one of the most prominent reporters on Mexico's deadly drug war. He had been a contributor to AFP for more than a decade.

President Enrique Pena Nieto said he had ordered "an investigation of this outrageous crime." He vowed to defend press freedom, "fundamental for our democracy."

- A wave of journalist killings -

Press rights group Articulo 19 said that was the first time Pena Nieto had reacted publicly to the recent wave of journalists' killings -- a sign of rising pressure on the president.

The killing fanned a wave of anger at the authorities, with rights groups saying corrupt officials are preventing journalists' killers from being punished.

"How long will there be killings without pity and with impunity?" said Valdez's own weekly publication, Riodoce.

"Murderous impunity," ran the headline of an editorial in La Jornada, the national daily for which Valdez worked as Sinaloa correspondent.

Some media in Sinaloa canceled their Tuesday editions in protest.

"This wave of violence shows the state of emergency in which Mexican journalists are living," said Emmanuel Colombie, Latin American director of Reporters Without Borders.

"The Mexican government must take action proportionate to the seriousness of the situation and strengthen protection for journalists as soon as possible."

Numerous media and human rights organizations including Amnesty International called for an impartial investigation.

They accused the authorities of failing to prosecute those responsible for killing journalists in broad daylight, sometimes in front of their families.

"It has become brazen and cynical," said Ana Cristina Ruelas, Mexico director of Articulo 19, a group that defends press freedoms.

"The state is not capable of investigating properly and that is an inducement for them to keep killing journalists."

Articulo 19 says 105 journalists have been murdered and a further 23 have disappeared since 2000.

Of those cases, 99.7 percent remain unsolved, meaning the culprits have gone unpunished, it says.

- Risking his life -

Valdez had written extensively for Mexican newspapers.

"Being a journalist is like being on a black list," he wrote in a recent book about drug gangs and the media.

"Even though you may have bulletproofing and bodyguards, (the gangs) will decide what day they are going to kill you."

His last contribution to AFP was 11 days ago, about the extradition to the United States of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, former head of the notorious Sinaloa cartel.

Valdez's brother Rafael said the reporter had been "very happy" in recent days and had not indicated having received threats.

"He was very reserved when it came to his work. He never talked about it so as not to drag people into it," Rafael Valdez told AFP.

"I asked him why he risked his life (for his work) and he replied: 'It is something I like doing, and someone has to do it. You have to fight to change things.'"

Mexico ranks third in the world for the number of journalists killed, after Syria and Afghanistan, according to media rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

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