Sunday, April 20, 2003

Mexico City detains holy water fighters

                  MEXICO CITY, Mexico (AP) -- Police in this city plagued by water shortages detained 12
                  people for allegedly wasting water in traditional Holy Week "baths," in which unsuspecting
                  passers-by are sloshed with buckets of water on the eve of Easter.

                  Those who engage in the centuries-old custom can be issued a warning or fined, based on the
                  severity of the offense.

                  The 12, mainly teenagers, were taken to local police stations on Saturday, but there was no
                  immediate information on what their sentences would be, the government news agency
                  Notimex said. Judges typically have 48 hours to rule in such cases.

                  The tradition was born out of a supposed religious prohibition against bathing during Holy Week,
                  because being naked might give rise to lascivious thoughts.

                  Over the years, mischief-makers decided to oblige by giving people involuntary "baths" on
                  Saturday of Holy Week -- with their clothes on.

                  City officials banned the practice several years ago as the city's water table sank and water
                  from distant rivers proved insufficient for the metropolitan area's 18 million inhabitants. About 1
                  million residents have to depend on tanker trucks for their water because of low pressure or
                  inadequate pipes.

                  Police said the message appears to be sinking in: fewer people are arrested each year. The
                  practice continues mainly in the city's older, poorer neighborhoods.

                  However, aut horities have yet to take any action against Mexico's other,
                  environmentally-questionable Holy Week tradition: the burning of papier-mache figures known
                  as "Judas." The figures represent cardinal sins like sloth or gluttony, or unpopular political
                  figures, who this year included President Bush.

                  Stuffed with fireworks, the figures are strung above streets and set ablaze; the resulting
                  dense smoke adds to the city's stubborn air pollution problem.

                  Copyright 2003 The Associated Press.