Mexico deploys 4,000 troops, choppers against pipeline theft

Vehicles stand in line to fill up their fuel tanks at a gas station in Mexico, City, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. A fuel scarcity arose after President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador decided to close government pipelines riddled with illegal fuel taps drilled by thieves, and instead deliver gas and diesel by tanker trucks. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has ordered helicopters and 4,000 troops to guard the nation's pipelines and fuel depots in an offensive against massive fuel theft

MEXICO CITY — Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Friday he has ordered helicopters and 4,000 troops to guard the nation's pipelines and fuel depots in an offensive against massive fuel theft.

The helicopters are watching for organized gangs that drill illegal taps into underground ducts carrying gasoline and diesel. Lopez Obrador ordered key pipelines shut down after thefts soared on Dec. 18.

Long lines continued at gas stations in Mexico City and outlying states Friday as tanker trucks struggled to supply fuel normally delivered through pipelines.

Most Mexicans understood the need to crack down on $3 billion per year in fuel thefts, but patience was wearing thin. "But we are asking for people's understanding

"There are a lot of people waiting in lines at gas stations and they're understandably desperate and tired and upset," said Lopez Obrador. "But we are asking for people's understanding. Together, we have to solve this problem for all Mexicans."

While Lopez Obrador has pledged "no retreat" in the offensive, it was unclear how long the politically costly battle could go on.

The head of Mexico's employers' federation said economic losses from fuel shortages now amount to over $60 million due to transportation delays for goods and workers.

Gustavo de Hoyos says the emergency measure "cannot continue much longer."

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