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TAPANATEPEC, Mexico (AP) — Several hundred migrants appeared to be preparing for a second day of confrontations on a bridge between Mexico and Guatemala Monday as a much larger group of several thousand Central American migrants ahead of them resumed their trek through southern Mexico toward the United States.
While the large caravan advanced peacefully from the town of Tapantepec toward Santiago Niltepec in the southern state of Oaxaca, other migrants farther south were gathered at the border bridge over the Suchiate River in hopes of getting into Mexico.
An Associated Press journalist saw about 600 migrants Monday morning on the bridge, where Mexican federal police had blocked one end. The migrants had gasoline bombs made of soft-drink bottles, and improvised PVC tubes to launch fireworks or other projectiles.
On Sunday, the smaller band of migrants broke through border barriers on the Guatemalan side of the bridge, just as members of the first caravan did more than a week earlier. And just as the first migrants did, the second group confronted Mexican police, who blocked them from entering Mexico.
But the first group was able to cross the river on rafts — an option now blocked by new Mexican Navy river and shore patrols.
Guatemala’s Interior Ministry said the second group had wounded Guatemalan police and used children as human shields, and Guatemalan firefighters confirmed that a 26-year-old Honduran had been killed from a blow to the head.
While migrants claimed he was hit by a rubber bullet, Mexican Interior Secretary Alfonso Navarrete Prida denied that his country’s forces had firearms or anything that could fire rubber bullets.
Navarrete Prida said Mexican federal police and immigration agents were attacked with rocks, glass bottles and fireworks when migrants broke through a gate on the Mexican side of the border, but were prevented from entering. Navarrete said some of the attackers carried guns and firebombs. There was no evidence that the first group had come with weapons.
“The Mexican government rejects the acts of violence on the border with Guatemala, and reiterates that the only way to enter Mexico is to obey immigration laws,” he said.
Also on Sunday, about 300 Salvadorans departed from San Salvador hoping to make their way to the U.S. as a group.
Meanwhile, some of the migrants in the initial caravan, now estimated at 4,000 people, began walking, and increasingly riding, from Tapanatepec, to Santiago Niltepec, 54 kilometers (33 miles) to the northwest.
While catching rides from passing trucks had been a largely impromptu habit in the first week of the caravan, it has now become more organized. On Monday, more than 100 migrants lined up at a gas station parking lot to wait for rides.
Mayor Ramiro Nolasco of the town of Zanatepec said local people had organized a bus and several trucks to carry migrants, mainly women and children. “We are helping our brothers from other countries with food, water, and transportation,” Nolasco said. “It is going to be very little, compared to what they need.”
The caravan still must travel roughly 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) to reach the nearest U.S. border crossing at McAllen, Texas. The trip could be twice as long if the migrants head for the Tijuana-San Diego frontier, as another caravan did earlier this year. Only about 200 in that smaller group made it to the border.
Most of the migrants in the caravan appeared determined to reach the U.S., despite an offer of refuge in Mexico.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto launched a program Friday dubbed “You are home,” which promises shelter, medical attention, schooling and jobs to Central Americans who agree to stay in the southern Mexico states of Chiapas or Oaxaca, far from the U.S. border.
Mexico’s interior minister said Sunday that temporary identity numbers had been issued to more than 300 migrants, which would allow them to stay and work in Mexico. The ministry said pregnant women, children and the elderly were among those who had joined the program and were now being attended at shelters.
He said 1,895 had applied for refugee status in Mexico.
Associated Press writer Sonia Perez D. in Guatemala City contributed to this report.