A leader of a Mexican gang linked to the disappearance of 43 students died during a police operation Tuesday amid growing anger and protests over the missing young men's fate.
Guerreros Unidos honcho Benjamin Mondragon apparently killed himself when federal police surrounded him in the central state of Morelos, a security spokesman told AFP.
"The information I have ... is that he preferred to commit suicide rather than give himself up," the spokesman for the National Security Commission, who declined to give his name, told AFP.
Prosecutors will have to confirm whether Mondragon killed himself during the clash in the city of Jiutepec, 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of Mexico City, said the spokesman.
The spokesman did not know if Mondragon, known as "El Benjamon," was involved in the case of the missing students in the southern state of Guerrero, where his gang is based.
Last week, National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido said the Guerreros Unidos no longer have a clear leadership since the capture in May of its boss, Mario "The Beautiful Toad" Casarrubias.
Mondragon's death came a day after angry protesters torched part of the Guerrero state government headquarters and clashed with riot police outside the regional congress.
Authorities say the Guerreros Unidos worked hand-in-hand with corrupt municipal officers in a night of violence in the city of Iguala on September 26 that left six people dead and the 43 aspiring teachers missing.
Witnesses saw several students being taken away in patrol cars. Authorities have arrested 26 Iguala police officers and eight other people, including four Guerreros Unidos members.
The city's mayor, his wife and police chief are on the run and wanted for questioning amid allegations that they unleashed the officers on the students to stop them from showing up at municipal events.
The students, from a teacher training college, say they were in Iguala for fundraising activities and seized buses to return home.
Nine clandestine graves with at least 28 bodies were found on the outskirts of Iguala last week after suspects said some of the young men were killed there.
The case has drawn international condemnation and sparked national protests last week.
The federal attorney general's office has said that the first DNA results from bodies at the mass graves could be released on Tuesday or Wednesday, which would either provide answers or deepen the mystery of the students' disappearance.
- State capitol torched -
Hundreds of protesters demanded the safe return of the missing students and the resignation of Guerrero Governor Angel Aguirre in demonstrations that erupted in violence on Monday.
Masked students from the missing group's teacher training college ransacked and burned a state government building in Guerrero's capital, Chilpancingo.
Aguirre charged that there was a "political undercurrent" behind the violent protests.
"There's an attempt to produce a provocation that would generate more complicated and destabilizing situations in our state," Aguirre told MVS radio.
State authorities deployed more riot police to Chilpancingo.
Protesters vowed to "radicalize" their movement if officials fail to provide information about the missing students' whereabouts soon.
Ramos Reyes, head of the radical CETEG teachers union, said the demonstrators plan to seize city halls around Guerrero.
Students from teacher training colleges in the neighboring state of Michoacan have seized 35 buses to travel to Guerrero to join future protests.
"We are going to support our comrades and the families of the missing," said a student from the Cheran college in Michoacan, who declined to give his name.
Students from the National Autonomous University of Mexico and the Autonomous Metropolitan University, both in the country's capital, began a 48-hour strike in support of their missing peers.