MEXICO CITY -- A Mexican judge refused yesterday to issue an arrest warrant for former President Luis Echeverria, accused of ordering the killing of protesters at a 1971 demonstration, a spokesman for the special prosecutor's office said.
Prosecutors probably will appeal the decision, said Eduardo Maldonado, a spokesman for the office established to investigate crimes related to government repression of student and leftist groups in the 1960s and '70s.
The judge did not immediately make public the basis for his decision.
The case against Echeverria had threatened to create a crisis in President Vicente Fox's troubled relationship with Congress. Echeverria's Institutional Revolutionary Party holds the largest bloc of seats and had threatened to stop cooperating with Fox if the arrest warrant was issued.
International observers said the decision could add to Mexicans' distrust of their justice system, generally perceived as corrupt and inept.
"Presidents in the history of Mexico have been sort of untouchable, rarely held accountable," said Eric Olson, of Amnesty International. "By pushing forward in this, hopefully, this will . . . lend more credibility to the system."
Special prosecutor Ignacio Carrillo confirmed Friday he had presented findings in a two-year probe to a federal judge, asking the court to confirm charges of genocide, although he did not say against whom. He said the law prohibited him from saying more.
Echeverria's attorney, Juan Velazquez, confirmed that Carrillo had sought the arrest of Echeverria, former interior secretary Mario Moya, and former attorney general Julio Sanchez Vargas.
Carrillo said "dozens" of students were killed in the 1971 clash, when a civilian-clothed government force called the "Halcones," or Falcons, attacked student demonstrators in Mexico City. He said the crime fit the description of genocide under a 1967 Mexican law.
Velazquez has said that only 11 people were killed in the clash and that charges of genocide aren't applicable because of a 30-year statute of limitations. He also said there was not enough evidence to support the case.