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By Dave Graham

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's Defense Ministry urged federal prosecutors on Wednesday to investigate a video that appears to show a soldier shooting a man lying on the ground in the head at point-blank range, and risks sparking a new scandal for the armed forces.

The ministry said in a statement that prosecutors should "comprehensively clear up" whether the video indeed showed the soldier shooting the detained man after a clash last week between security forces and suspected criminals.

Published online, the video shows a shot-up car coming to a halt, receiving further gunfire and eventually being surrounded by soldiers. Minutes later, its doors open and people exiting the vehicle are forced onto the ground in a dimly lit area.

Soon afterward, soldiers drag a man who appears to be still alive from the dark area to a well-lit part of the shot, where he lies on the ground for about six minutes before a soldier steps toward him and appears to shoot him in the back of the head.

A dark stain then spreads outward from the prone man's head on the asphalt as soldiers move around.

According to the videos posted online and Mexican media, the events took place during a clash between soldiers and suspected oil thieves in Palmarito in the central state of Puebla last week, in which four soldiers and six suspected criminals died.

Mexico's army has been embroiled in a number of scandals in the past few years centering on the use of extrajudicial force, embarrassing the government and undermining its efforts to clamp down on widespread gang violence.

In its statement, the Defense Ministry said soldiers had come under fire from vehicles in Palmarito and had detained some of the attackers. It pledged to cooperate with the Attorney General's Office in the probe.

Two shootouts between federal security forces and suspected gang members in 2014 and 2015 that took more than 60 lives prompted accusations by human rights groups that federal forces had carried out extrajudicial killings.

Three soldiers are in prison over one of the shootings.

A report on Tuesday said Mexico had the second-highest number of murders last year among countries considered in "armed conflicts."

In a statement on Wednesday, the government said the term "armed conflict" used by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in its report was inapplicable to Mexico and that the final murder tally for 2016 was not yet official.

(Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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