Defeated Mexican candidate demands recount

Leftist's supporters continue protests

August 07, 2006|By MCCLATCHY-TRIBUNE

MEXICO CITY -- Defeated presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador urged supporters yesterday not to give up their fight for a full vote recount of the July 2 election and announced a series of street protests to keep up pressure on authorities.

Among initial actions, Lopez Obrador said he would stage protests wherever President Vicente Fox appears in public and at a rally tonight in front of the Federal Electoral Tribunal, which voted Saturday to recount ballots in just over 9 percent of the country's polling places.

He stopped short, however, of escalating the protests to block highways, government buildings and other strategic points as had been widely anticipated.

"We're not going to surrender," said the leftist former Mexico City mayor to thousands of cheering supporters gathered in the capital's main square, the Zocalo. "We may get tired physically but we're not going to tire of being who we are."

Lopez Obrador, of the Democratic Revolutionary Party, maintains that he lost the presidency to the National Action Party's Felipe Calderon because of widespread fraud and arithmetic errors. He is insisting on a recount of all 41 million votes cast.

Calderon asserts the vote was free and fair. Although he opposed any recount, he said Saturday that he would accept the Tribunal's decision.

Thousands of Lopez Obrador's followers have been camping out in tents in the city's historic downtown and along its toniest street, Paseo de la Reforma, for the past week to urge the total vote recount.

The camps have created traffic havoc, enraging city residents and businesses.

The headaches will continue this week as supporters stay put and possibly expand their camps to other streets. Yesterday afternoon, they linked hands to form a human chain along the five-mile stretch of camps for 30 minutes, blocking traffic at a key intersection.

Lopez Obrador urged supporters to conserve their energy. "This struggle is going to be long," he said.

City Public Safety Director Joel Ortega said yesterday that he was prepared to get tough on protesters if they tried to block more streets. "Without going into detail, we're going to take more drastic measures," he said.

Yesterday, the camps were calm, resembling a typical afternoon in the park except for a heavy police presence. Organizers were holding "people's resistance parties" with music and shows on stages every few blocks along the boulevard as children played soccer and couples strolled arm in arm.

Maria Martinez Barrios, a seamstress and mother of eight from Mexico City, said she was prepared to fight for Lopez Obrador because he was the only candidate who would work to better life for the impoverished.

"We are defending our vote," she said. "We know Lopez Obrador won."

Political analyst Armand Peschard-Sverdrup, Mexico expert at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington, D.C., said Lopez Obrador's continuing resistance is "a failed strategy" that he cannot ultimately win.

"I don't see the recount as necessarily opening the door to changing the outcome," Peschard-Sverdrup said. "But Lopez Obrador is going to remain a thorn in the side of Felipe Calderon."

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