January 25, 2006

Mexican candidate Madrazo heckled at rally

By Miguel Angel Gutierrez

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Thousands of Mexican students
heckled presidential candidate Roberto Madrazo at a rally on
Tuesday, forcing him to cut short a speech and handing him a
major embarrassment only days after campaigning began.

Students whistled, shouted slogans in favor of left-wing
front-runner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and booed Madrazo,
from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, when he
tried to give a speech in the central city of Pachuca,
witnesses said.

Madrazo, in third place in opinion polls, is linked to the
old guard of the PRI, which ruled Mexico for 71 years and
earned a reputation for corruption and authoritarianism.

The candidate ended his speech after only two minutes and
abandoned the rodeo ring where the rally was taking place.

"Long Live The Peje!" students shouted, in reference to
Lopez Obrador, known by the nickname "The Peje" after the
pejelagarto fish typical of his home state of Tabasco.

Some students threw paper airplanes and inflated condoms
with Lopez Obrador's nickname written on them, the Reforma
newspaper said in its online edition.

Campaigning for the July 2 election began on Thursday.

In a speech on Tuesday, Lopez Obrador, who heads opinion
polls by up to 10 points, said he would give places to
academics in his government if he won.

"Universities will be a basic source to feed our programs
and provide people for our government teams," he said.


Lopez Obrador has tapped into disillusionment with slow
economic growth under President Vicente Fox, who blames
Congress for not passing economic reforms.

Fox told Reuters on Tuesday that Mexico could still push
through the long-awaited fiscal and energy reforms this year,
but it depends on who wins the election.

"I think it is possible something could happen after the
elections," he said in an interview. "It depends first of all
on who the winner is."

Fox, whose 2000 election victory knocked the PRI from
power, said his successor will need tax reform, ideally before
taking office in December, to finance social spending plans.

"The three candidates will have to look at tax reform, or
they will not have the resources they need for the programs
they say they are going to implement," he said in the central
state of Aguascalientes.

Felipe Calderon, the candidate from Fox's conservative
National Action Party, challenged his rivals on Tuesday to a
televised debate, in an attempt to raise his profile.

Calderon, whom polls put in second place, sent a letter to
the other hopefuls urging them to go head-to-head with him on

There was no immediate reply from Lopez Obrador, but
Madrazo later told journalists he would be happy to take part.

(Additional reporting by Kieran Murray and Alistair Bell)