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Mexico investigates march for drug lord

Officials say some were paid to help demand release

The turnout may have to do with uncertainty over the future of the illegal drug business.

Jonathan Telles/El Debate De Culiacan VIA AP

The turnout may have to do with uncertainty over the future of the illegal drug business.

CULIACAN, Mexico — Sinaloa state authorities said on Thursday that they are investigating who organized a march in which hundreds demanded the release of cartel leader Joaquin ‘‘El Chapo’’ Guzman, a display of public support for the crime boss in a state that many say he controls.

Governor Mario Lopez Valdez told Televisa that officials suspect Guzman’s family and friends, and there are also rumors that protesters were paid and given food and drink, a common practice in Mexico.

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‘‘We don’t know at this time, but the investigation should reveal that,’’ Lopez said.

Hundreds of people marched Wednesday night demanding that Mexican authorities free the boss of the powerful Sinaloa drug cartel. Many said he provides needed jobs in poor mountain areas.

Norteno musicians played trumpets while high school students in uniforms held up signs reading ‘‘We want Chapo free’’ and ‘‘We Love Chapo’’ as they paraded in Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa state, which is the cartel’s bastion.

Demonstrators also said they opposed any attempt to extradite Guzman to the United States, where he faces several drug-trafficking charges.

Police officers tried to scatter the protest, and a few of the demonstrators began throwing water bottles at them as the march broke up. Officers responded with tear gas and took some protesters into custody.

‘‘We support Chapo Guzman because he is the one who gives us jobs and helps out in the mountains,’’ said Pedro Ramirez, who said he traveled in a group of 300 from Badiraguato, where Guzman was born.

It was a rare display even in a country where drug lords inspire folk songs and books.

Wednesday’s turnout may have to do with the uncertainty felt by Sinaloans over the future of the illegal drug business, which provides a boost for their agricultural state.

‘‘El Chapo’’ is widely considered the world’s most powerful drug lord. In rulings Tuesday, two federal judges said he will have to stand trial on separate drug-trafficking and organized-crime charges in Mexico. The attorney general’s office said Wednesday that he also faces organized-crime charges in six other cases in four Mexican states and in Mexico City.

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