Mexico leader says US shares blame for drug violence

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Outgoing Mexican President Felipe Calderon blamed loose US gun laws and American addicts for fueling his country's drug violence as he defended his controversial anti-cartel offensive on Monday.

Presenting the final annual report of his presidency, Calderon insisted that his 2006 decision to deploy thousands of troops to round up drug traffickers was not to blame for the relentless crime wave plaguing the country.

The conservative leader, whose single six-year term ends December 1, said the wave of murders and kidnappings was linked to brutal turf wars being waged between Mexico's ultra-violent drug cartels.

But he also pointed his finger at the United States, saying criminals were able to arm themselves with powerful guns after Washington lawmakers refused to renew a law banning the sale of assault weapons such as AK-47 rifles in 2004.

The United States, he said, "is co-responsible for this grave problem because they are the consumers, they are the providers of funds and they are the providers of weapons."

"We firmly express the need to slow the flow of criminal weapons and cash fueling the violence in our country," he said in a speech delivered in Mexico City's National Palace.

More than 50,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence since 2006, when Calderon unleashed the military against drug traffickers.

The president touted successes in his strategy, saying that 22 of Mexico's 37 most wanted criminals had been either captured or killed while his government implemented "historic" judicial and security reforms.

But Calderon said the end of the US assault weapon ban in 2004 "allowed criminals to have almost unlimited access to all types of weapons" which considerably increased their firepower against the state and rival groups.

"This fueled the spiral of violence, which began around the same time," he added.

Calderon will be succeeded by Enrique Pena Nieto, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), who has vowed to continue the anti-cartel offensive but to shift its focus to reducing everyday violence.