July 16, 2006

Protesters flood Mexican capital to back leftist

By Noel Randewich

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Up to 200,000 protesters poured
onto the streets of Mexico's capital on Sunday to back leftist
candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's claim that he lost the
July 2 presidential election because of fraud.

Chanting "You are not alone," large crowds marched with
runner-up Lopez Obrador past hotels and skyscrapers toward the
Zocalo square, once center of the Aztec empire and now the
heart of modern Mexico.

The size of the protest, bigger than a similar march last
week, gave Lopez Obrador a lift in his attempt to persuade an
election court to declare him winner of the ultra-close race.

The court is investigating complaints by Lopez Obrador, the
former mayor of Mexico City, that electoral officials altered
the vote count to favor ruling party conservative Felipe
Calderon, who won by 0.58 of a percentage point, or just over
240,000 votes.

"I feel sad, angry and impotent because the people's will
was not respected," demonstrator Salvador Torres said.

The vote split Mexico only six years after President
Vicente Fox ended 71 years of one-party rule. The uncertainty
following the election has raised fears of political gridlock
and maybe even violence in a key U.S. ally in Latin America.

The court must rule on the legality of the election and
declare a president-elect by early September.

Leftists streamed into the capital from all over Mexico to
back Lopez Obrador, known as AMLO from his initials. An austere
widower, he vows to take millions of Mexicans out of poverty.


Five people carrying yellow flags of Lopez Obrador's Party
of the Democratic Revolution rode horses through the Spanish
colonial city center.

A youth dressed in a black Che Guevara tee-shirt carried a
banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico's most revered
religious icon, reading, "The mother of Mexico is with AMLO."

Calderon, a former energy minister, has called for calm.

European Union observers say there was no major fraud on
voting day but leftists have been deeply suspicious since a
1988 presidential contest that was almost certainly stolen from
their candidate by the then government.

Lopez Obrador was to address the crowd later in the day and
expected to announce further protests to keep the pressure up
on the court, composed of seven magistrates who are seen as
being free from political bias.

Lopez Obrador, a former Indian welfare officer and fiery
speaker, inspires fear in Mexico's middle class but devotion
among the poor. Supporters vowed to stay with him to the end.

"People are really angry. We're not just going to go home.
We're going to keep going until he is declared president," said
Francisco Benavides, a farmer from the state of Morelos.

But despite Lopez Obrador's ability to put supporters on
the streets, a poll in the Reforma newspaper on Saturday showed
most Mexicans do not agree with his call for a recount.

He has asked the electoral court to carry out a
vote-for-vote recount, beyond the original count and the tally
sheet recount last week that showed Calderon the winner.

Sixty percent of people polled by Reforma said they did not
want a new recount, compared to 37 percent who backed Lopez
Obrador's proposal.

But the question put to interviewees in the poll did not
mention the allegations of fraud. It only asked if the votes
should be counted a third time.

Most Mexicans believe the election results are trustworthy
and 75 percent think the Federal Electoral Institute, which
organized the vote is impartial, the poll showed.