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Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto attends the Plenary Session of the One Planet Summit at the Seine Musicale venue in Boulogne-Billancourt, near Paris, France December 12, 2017. REUTERS/Etienne Laurent/Pool

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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico has this year registered its highest murder total since modern records began, according to official data, dealing a fresh blow to President Enrique Pena Nieto's pledge to get gang violence under control with presidential elections due in 2018.

A total of 23,101 murder investigations were opened in the first 11 months of this year, surpassing the 22,409 registered in the whole of 2011, figures published on Friday night by the interior ministry showed. The figures go back to 1997.

Pena Nieto took office in December 2012 pledging to tame the violence that escalated under his predecessor Felipe Calderon. He managed to reduce the murder tally during the first two years of his term, but since then it has risen steadily.

At 18.7 per 100,000 inhabitants, the 2017 Mexican murder rate is still lower than it was in 2011, when it reached almost 19.4 per 100,000, the data showed. The rate has also held below levels reported in several other Latin American countries.

According to U.N. figures used in the World Bank's online database, Brazil and Colombia both had a murder rate of 27 per 100,000, Venezuela 57, Honduras 64 and El Salvador 109 in 2015, the last year for which data are available.

The U.S. rate was 5 per 100,000.

Still, Pena Nieto's failure to contain the killings has damaged his credibility and hurt his centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which faces an uphill struggle to hold onto power in the July 2018 presidential election.

The current front-runner in the race, leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has floated exploring an amnesty with criminal gangs to reduce the violence, without fleshing out the idea.

Mexican newspaper Reforma said on Saturday that after a campaign stop in the central state of Hidalgo on Friday, Lopez Obrador again addressed the issue when asked whether talks aimed at stopping the violence could include criminal gangs.

"There can be dialogue with everyone. There needs to be dialogue and there needs to be a push to end the war and guarantee peace. Things can't go on as before," Reforma quoted Lopez Obrador as saying.

Such a strategy harbours risks for the former Mexico City mayor.

A poll this month showed that two-thirds of Mexicans reject offering an amnesty to members of criminal gangs in a bid to curb violence, with less than a quarter in favour.

The law bars Pena Nieto from seeking re-election.

(Reporting by Diego Ore and Dave Graham; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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Reuters