July 30, 2006

Mexican leftists swarm capital in election protest

By Cyntia Barrera

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A massive crowd marched through
Mexico City on Sunday to back a leftist who claims he was
robbed of victory in a fiercely contested presidential election
and is demanding a vote-by-vote recount.

At least 100,000 protesters swarmed toward the central
Zocalo, one of the world's largest squares, where Andres Manuel
Lopez Obrador was to rally his supporters for a campaign of
civil disobedience.

"Lopez Obrador, hold on, the people are rising up,"
supporters chanted on Sunday, many dressed in the bright yellow
of his leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD.

Mexico was plunged into a political crisis by the close
July 2 election, which saw ruling party conservative Felipe
Calderon beat Lopez Obrador by just around 244,000 votes out of
41 million cast.

Lopez Obrador, an austere former mayor of Mexico City who
campaigned on promises to help Mexico's poor with ambitious
welfare and infrastructure programs, claims the result was
rigged against him.

"The elections were filthy," said Maria Teresa Priego, a
57-year-old city government employee. "We are here to support a
humble man, a hard-working man."

It was the third mass protest in the last three weeks, and
many expected it to be the biggest.

The crowd grew steadily as it approached the Zocalo, which
holds well over 100,000 people and was once the center of the
Aztec empire. It is still the heart of modern Mexico, home to
the National Palace and the capital's main cathedral.


Lopez Obrador says vote counts were fiddled at more than
half the country's roughly 130,000 polling stations. He is
challenging them before Mexico's highest electoral court, and
says he will only accept the result if there is a recount.

While stressing his protests will stay peaceful, Lopez
Obrador upped the ante last week by declaring he was the
country's legitimate president and warning his supporters had
plenty of energy for more protests.

Critics accuse him of holding the country to ransom with
threats of civil disobedience.

However large the latest protest, it is unlikely to
directly influence the seven electoral court judges who have
until August 31 to decide whether there is a case to reopen
ballot boxes.

Their choices range from throwing out Lopez Obrador's case
and declaring Calderon the winner, to ordering a partial or
full recount or even annulling the election and calling for a

An annulment is thought highly unlikely and, without it,
the court must formally declare Mexico's president-elect by
September 6.

Calderon insists the vote was clean and that no recount is
needed. While his party's lawyers are fighting the PRD at the
electoral court, he is trying to pull support from other
opposition parties for reforms he plans to push through once he
takes office in December.

(Additional reporting by Catherine Bremer)