July 16, 2006

Mexico leftist to launch civil resistance

By Noel Randewich

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

Huge crowds chanting "You are not alone," cheered Andres
Manuel Lopez Obrador, runner-up in the July 2 election by a
fraction, on a march through the capital to the 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 battered old 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. Friction over
fraud allegations have 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. European Union observers say
there was no significant fraud.

Lopez Obrador did not say what kind of civil resistance he
envisaged. But as a local politician in the state of Tabasco in
the 1990s he blocked oil wells and encouraged tens of thousands
of people not to pay energy bills to protest at alleged vote
fraud and environmental damage by the Pemex oil company.

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.
Protesters, many dressed in the yellow of Lopez Obrador's Party
of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, set off firecrackers near
the U.S. embassy and a major international hotel.

People packed the Zocalo, once the center of the Aztec
empire and now the heart of modern Mexico, and filled
surrounding streets for several blocks. The square holds well
over 100,000 people for concerts.

Mexico City's police, controlled by the left, put the crowd
at 1.1 million people but it seemed more like over 200,000.

The court must rule on the fraud claims then declare a
president-elect by early September. Legal deliberations are
likely to take weeks and be highly technical. Lopez Obrador
asked his followers to hold another mass rally in the capital
on July 30 to keep the focus on his cause.

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 PRD flags 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."

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.

(Additional reporting by Anahi Rama and Kieran Murray)