Mexico City mayor leads supporters in protest

150,000 rally to fight prosecution efforts

August 30, 2004|By Richard Boudreaux | Richard Boudreaux,LOS ANGELES TIMES

MEXICO CITY - A bitter struggle over Mexico's 2006 presidential race spilled into the streets here yesterday as Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador led about 120,000 marchers in protest against government-backed legal proceedings that could disqualify him as a candidate.

The demonstrators banged drums and set off firecrackers along the Paseo de la Reforma before filling the Zocalo, Mexico City's main square. The mayor's Democratic Revolution Party, the PRD, bused in yellow-shirted activists from several surrounding states.

No violence was reported, but the size and defiant mood of the crowd marked a potentially unruly phase of the race for the presidency, which polls show is led by the 50-year-old leftist mayor, an undeclared candidate.

Lopez Obrador faces contempt charges for defying a court order to stop road works on a piece of expropriated land, whose former owner is fighting the city in court. Elected officials in Mexico are immune from prosecution, but the federal attorney general is backing an effort in Congress, starting this week, to lift the mayor's immunity in the case.

Noting that other officials ignore court orders without being punished, the mayor says he is being singled out to exclude him from the race. Lopez Obrador would be ineligible to run if convicted of contempt; some lawyers say he could be barred just for being on trial during the campaign.

Guadalupe Contreras, a 42-year-old homemaker, and other marchers yesterday echoed warnings by PRD leaders that such a move could lead to disorder.

"Violence is what they will get," she said. "We will go after the legislators and [President Vicente] Fox and anyone else who commits this injustice. We will throw rocks at their offices."

Speaking to the crowd, Lopez Obrador outlined his vision for Mexico, calling for a reversal of free-market policies and a return to a more self-sufficient, oil-based economy. He also said: "I have broken no law."

Mario Lazcano, a 35-year-old accountant, said he was no fan of the mayor. But he said he joined the march because Fox was trying to control the choice of a successor, as his predecessors had. Fox's election in 2000 ended seven decades of autocratic rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party.

Fox has denied plotting against Lopez Obrador but insisted "there is a violation of the law, and that is what he will have to answer to ... in the courts."

Lopez Obrador has won a big following by building new highways in the traffic-clogged capital and giving $60 a month to the elderly. A subsequent corruption scandal - featuring videotapes of one mayoral aide stuffing his pockets with apparent bribe money and another playing $300-a-hand blackjack in Las Vegas - failed to dislodge the mayor from the lead. A poll by the newspaper Reforma a week ago showed 31 percent of voters favor him, against 20 percent for his nearest rival.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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