Suspected gang members found dead amid surge of violence in Mexico

ACAPULCO, Oct 24 (Reuters) - Nine men allegedly linked to organized crime were shot dead in southern Mexico during a confrontation with other armed civilians, state authorities said, as the country grapples with a wave of violence.

The bodies were found Wednesday night in the remote village of Zitlala, according to the prosecutor's office in the state of Guerrero, one of the country's poorest and hardest-hit by Mexico's long-running drug war.

The office said late Wednesday that the deceased were believed to be associated with Zenen Nava, leader of the "Rojos," one of the criminal gangs operating in the state. Casings from AK-47 and AR-15 rifles were found nearby.

In recent weeks, Mexico has been shaken especially hard by several outbursts of violence linked to organized crime.

Last week, the bungled arrest of one of the sons of jailed drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman sparked an hours-long siege of the city of Culiacan, the capital of northern Sinaloa state, punctuated by blockades and running fire fights pitting outmatched security forces against a small army of Sinaloa Cartel gunmen.

Other incidents of gangland violence played out earlier this month in the town of Tepochica in Guerrero, where 15 mostly civilian victims were gunned down, and western Michoacan state, where 13 police offers were ambushed and killed by suspected gunmen with the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

The spasms of violence have sparked sharp criticism of the security strategy of leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who took office late last year promising to pacify the country.

Lopez Obrador has argued that violence will only beget more violence and has instead doubled down on a strategy that focuses on attacking the root causes of crime, including poverty, joblessness and lack of educational opportunities for youth.

(Reporting by Uriel Sanchez; Writing by Julia Love; Editing by David Alire Garcia and Richard Chang)

((, @byJuliaLove; 52 (55) 5282-7131;))

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