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Masked men stop vehicle carrying Mexico's leading presidential candidate, Claudia Sheinbaum

Tapachula, Mexico — Masked men stopped a vehicle carrying Mexico's leading presidential candidate while she was traveling between campaign stops Sunday to ask that she address the violence in the southern state of Chiapas if she wins the June 2 election.

Former Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, the governing Morena party's candidate, remained in the front passenger seat of the vehicle listening calmly with her window down. Masked men filmed the interaction on their cell phones and one shook her hand before letting her move on.

The men, who identified themselves as local residents, said they felt "powerless" because the government hasn't done enough to provide security. They asked her to take action as president so their township, Motozintla, along Mexico's southern border with Guatemala, doesn't become a "disaster" like other communities in the region.

Mexican presidential candidate Claudia Sheinbaum attends the banking convention, in Acapulco
Mexican presidential candidate Claudia Sheinbaum speaks during a banking convention in Acapulco, Mexico, in this handout distributed on April 19, 2024. Difusion Fuente Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. Difusion Fuente Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo / Handout via REUTERS

During her campaign swing through Chiapas, Sheinbaum was escorted by the army and national guard.

The border area of Chiapas has been plagued by violence as the rival Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels battle for territory. Thousands of people have been displaced as the cartels work to control migrant, drug and weapons smuggling routes and forcibly recruit locals.

Later Sunday, Sheinbaum confirmed the incident had occurred but downplayed it and said she didn't believe the men were part of an organized crime group. She described the encounter as "very strange" because she said a media outlet critical of outgoing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's administration first published it. Sheinbaum has maintained a comfortable lead in the presidential race, according to polls.

A federal lawmaker from López Obrador's party who was traveling with Sheinbaum had earlier described the encounter on the social platform X. Federal deputy Carmen Patricia Armendáriz wrote that they had been stopped by masked men from one of the cartels battling for the area's control, but she later deleted it.

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