11/27/2014 05:04 pm ET Updated Nov 27, 2014

Mexico's President Vows To Reform Police In Wake Of Students' Disappearance


MEXICO CITY, Nov 27 (Reuters) - Embattled President Enrique Pena Nieto on Thursday proposed simplifying Mexico's chaotic police structure and a new law to stop collusion between officials and gangs as he tried to defuse anger over the apparent massacre of 43 students in September.

Pena Nieto has been under growing pressure from protesters to end impunity and brutality by security forces since the trainee teachers were abducted by corrupt police in the southwestern city of Iguala on the night of Sept. 26.

The government says the students were murdered and their bodies incinerated after police handed them over to a drug gang.

"Mexico cannot continue like this," Pena Nieto said in a speech to an assembly of political leaders.

"After Iguala, Mexico has to change," he said, noting that the reforms aimed to create a new law against infiltration by organized crime and redefine powers in the penal system.

The president said he would send an initiative to Congress to unify multi-layered police forces in Mexico's states and had ordered a special security operation in the Southwest, large swathes of which are plagued by drug gangs.

Mexico has a plethora of police forces, as hundreds of municipalities, 31 states and the capital Mexico City each has its own. But poor training and salaries as low as 5,000 pesos ($370) per month encourage corruption.

Several of Pena Nieto's predecessors also undertook police reforms, but problems have persisted and infiltration by gangs is widespread. Some Mexican states who got rid of municipal forces remain wracked by violent crime.

Pena Nieto said the government would also launch a program to boost growth in economically backward and troubled areas of the country including the Southwest, ensuring they would get preferential financing conditions.

"Today there are two Mexicos: One that is part of the global economy with growing levels of income, development and well-being; and then there is a poorer Mexico with historical problems that have been unresolved for generations," he said.

Only about 2 percent of crimes in Mexico result in convictions, and despite the indictments of several senior Mexican officials in U.S. courts, very few of them have had to face investigations, let alone trial, at home.

Pena Nieto said he aimed to introduce a single, nationwide phone number for emergencies, preferably "911" for simplicity.

(Reporting by Mexico Newsroom; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Gunna Dickson)