Soldiers walk past the charred Casino Royale in Monterrey, Mexico, on Friday. | Arnulfo Franco~AP
Updated: November 4, 2011 11:00AM
MONTERREY, Mexico — The day after a drug-war related arson attack that killed at least 52 people in a casino, Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon on Friday labeled the incident the worst against civilians in this country’s recent history.
“We are not confronting common criminals,” the visibly angry president said in a nationally televised speech. “We are facing true terrorists who have gone beyond all limits.”
The president gave no indication, however, that he intended to back down from his confrontational policy against drug gangs.
In fact, he announced he is sending more federal forces to the city of 1 million people.
Meanwhile, Former Mexican President Vicente Fox said maybe it’s time to consider a truce with drug traffickers and even an amnesty for them as a way to stop violence in Mexico. Fox says authorities “at the highest level” should also consider legalizing drugs.
Fox was criticized for his anti-drug strategy, which focused on arresting top drug lords. His critics say the approach created a power vacuum that led to a spiral of violence between rival gangs.
The victims of the fire were working or gambling at the Casino Royale in an affluent part of this industrial city Thursday when at least eight assailants burst into the building and set it on fire, trapping dozens inside. The gunmen had ordered people to leave before setting the fire, but many fled further inside. Officials said they likely died quickly, the majority from smoke inhalation.
The casino was attacked twice before. In May, gunmen strafed it from the outside. Last month, gunmen killed 20 people at a bar.
Nearly 40,000 people have died since Calderon launched his drug offensive in December 2006. AP