July 16, 2006

Mexico leftist plans civil resistance campaign

By Noel Randewich

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Backed by hundreds of thousands of
followers, the leftist who lost Mexico's presidential vote two
weeks ago, vowed on Sunday to start civil resistance to protest
at fraud and force a recount.

Huge crowds chanting "You are not alone," cheered Andres
Lopez Obrador, who lost the July 2 election by a fraction, on a
march through the capital to the main Zocalo square.

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

"We are going to start peaceful civil resistance to defend
democracy," Lopez Obrador told supporters, some of whom walked,
traveled on buses or even rode on horseback to the capital from
around the country.

Lopez Obrador, a former Indian welfare officer, said aides
would meet this week to work out what form the resistance would
take. The official result showed conservative ruling party
candidate Felipe Calderon won by less than a percentage point,
or just over 240,000 votes.

The race divided Mexico only six years after President
Vicente Fox ended 71 years of one-party rule. Arguments over
fraud allegations raised fears of political gridlock and maybe
even violence in a key U.S. ally in Latin America.

A court is investigating complaints by Lopez Obrador, the
ex-mayor of Mexico City, that electoral officials altered the
vote count to favor Calderon.

Despite Lopez Obrador's ability to put supporters on the
streets, an opinion poll on Saturday showed most Mexicans do
not agree with his call for a vote-for-vote recount. A recount
of tally sheets has already confirmed Calderon as the winner.

The leftist also said Fox's government illegally backed
Calderon, its Harvard-educated former energy minister.

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

The court must rule on the fraud claims then 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 toward the rally.

A youth dressed in a black Che Guevara T-shirt carried a
banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico's most revered
religious icon, reading, "The mother of Mexico is with AMLO."

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, a fiery speaker, inspires fear in the middle
class but devotion among many of Mexico's poor.

"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.

Lopez Obrador 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 newspaper 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.

(Additional reporting by Anahi Rama and Kieran Murray)