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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Rampant crime and gang activity in Mexico prompted the U.S. State Department on Wednesday to issue a stringent travel advisory, warning tourists to completely avoid five Mexican states, an advisory level often reserved for nations at war.
The State Department's highest "do not travel" advisory places the states of Colima, Michoacan, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas and Guerrero at the same warning level as war-ravaged Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
The advisory delivered a stark reminder of the formerly ritzy seaside resort city Acapulco fall from grace.
Once a glamorous playground for the Hollywood jet set, including Frank Sinatra and Rita Hayworth, the resort in Guerrero state now has one of the highest murder rates in the world, having fallen victim to vicious gang warfare in recent years.
"Armed groups operate independently of the government in many areas of Guerrero. Members of these groups frequently maintain roadblocks and may use violence towards travellers," said the State Department.
Overall, the State Department placed Mexico at the second of its four-stage travel advisory levels.
"Exercise increased caution in Mexico due to crime ... violent crime, such as homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery, is widespread," it said.
The advisory underscored the limitations that the U.S. government faces in providing emergency services in many areas of Mexico because U.S. government employees are prohibited from travelling to those areas.
Clashes between rival drug gangs contributed to a record number of murders in Mexico last year, according to official data, dealing a fresh blow to President Enrique Pena Nieto's pledge to bring gang violence under control with presidential elections due in July 2018.
In recent months, about a dozen politicians, officials and candidates for elected office have been killed in states where there are struggles between criminal groups for the control of drug trafficking routes.
(Reporting by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)