MEXICO CITY (AP) -- With chants of "Free beach!"and waving placards, banners and Mexican flags, hundreds of protesters staged a symbolic beach party on a stretch of sand in the Caribbean resort of Playa del Carmen where two Mexican tourists were briefly arrested last week for refusing to leave the beach.
A private "beach club" known as Mamita's had been charging to use lounge chairs placed almost up to the water's edge, and it called municipal police when the couple refused to leave what the club called "a service aisle" on the sand. Video posted on social media showed the couple being handcuffed and wrestled off the beach by police as other people objected, noting beach access is protected by law.
Sunday's protest was billed as a "Mass Picnic," in which largely local people installed themselves on the stretch of sand in front of the restaurant with beach umbrellas, towels and food.
Activists used a large measuring tape to determine the 20 meters (yards) of "free" beach space. Federal law states the public cannot be denied access to a space 20 meters inland from the high tide line.
However, according to photos posted on social media, Mamita's had been placing its umbrellas and lounge chairs within a few meters of the water and charging tourists $40 to use them.
When a young university student and a musician laid out their towel last week among the lounge chairs, staff from the beach club told them to leave.
In a statement, the beach club had said, "On Feb. 16, a couple laid down to sunbathe in an aisle that exists expressly for the transit of our guests and staff, and for that reason they were kindly asked to move somewhere else ... their reacted with threats and insults."
Later, the club's director, Jorge Marzuca, apologized but urged demonstrators to be "respectful."
The mayor of Playa del Carmen, Laura Beristain, apologized to the two tourists and embraced them. The two were quickly released, and Beristain said the officers who arrested them would be placed under investigation for improper use of force.