Encarni Pindado

MEXICO CITY — The governor of the Mexican state of Guerrero, where 43 students disappeared nearly a month ago, stepped down on Thursday as public outrage intensified over a case that has triggered large street protests and exposed links between Mexican police and organized crime.

Gov. Angel Aguirre, a member of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), said he would leave office and let state lawmakers choose his successor.

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"In order to favor a political climate that puts attention and solutions towards these priorities [finding the students], today I have decided to take a leave of absence," Aguirre told reporters.

Aguirre does not face any charges in connection with the students’ disappearances, but has come under growing criticism that he tolerated the links between local police and drug cartels in Guerrero.

The students went missing in the city of Iguala on Sept. 26 after they commandeered several buses following a protest and police responded with gunfire. Three students died in the shooting, and others were hauled off in police vans, according to witnesses. Three other people were also killed in related shootings.

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Investigators believe municipal police handed over the students to a local drug gang, which executed them and tossed their bodies in unmarked graves.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said the mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca, and his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, ordered the attacks on the students.

Authorities are exhuming bodies found in several mass graves to determine if the corpses belong to the students. Union de Pueblos Originarios de Guerrero, a local organization that has been searching for the students, said on Thursday as many as nine fresh graves have been found.

Murillo Karam has said several police officers confessed to handing over the students to a drug gang. Authorities are investigating allegations Abarca ordered the crackdown on the students to prevent them from protesting at a public event where his wife was expected to attend.

Abarca requested a leave of absence from the mayor’s office after the students’ disappearances, but he and his wife are now on the run. Authorities have issued an arrest warrant for both of them.

Tens of thousands of Mexicans marched through downtown Mexico City on Wednesday, demanding authorities provide new information on the case within two days.