Leftist lawmakers block speech by Fox

Mexican president's state of nation address delayed

September 02, 2006|By McClatchy-Tribune

MEXICO CITY -- An angry group of leftist lawmakers, accusing ruling conservatives of stealing the July presidential elections, briefly took control of the Mexican Congress last night and prevented President Vicente Fox from delivering his final "state of the nation" speech.

Chamber President Jorge Zermeno, a member of Fox's National Action Party, quickly declared a recess after the opposition legislators rushed the podium about 8 p.m. He urged them to return to their seats.

"Vote by vote, booth by booth," they yelled, repeating the slogan of their candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who narrowly lost the July 2 elections in official returns but won't concede to conservative Felipe Calderon, Fox's former energy minister.

Fox did make it to the heavily fortified building, despite fears that protesters would block his motorcade and clash with federal police.

As he walked into the lobby, Fox loyalists, trying to counter the protesters, shouted "Vicente! Vicente!"

But the president never got inside the chamber and instead made a brief statement from the lobby just outside. He was expected to deliver remarks from the presidential palace later.

"Because of the attitude of a group of legislators that makes it impossible for me to read the message I have prepared for this occasion, I am leaving this assembly," Fox said.

While he didn't attempt to force his way in, Fox took a clear swipe at Lopez Obrador, who has led a series of protests in downtown Mexico. Lopez Obrador has even suggested that he might declare himself president on Mexico's Independence Day, Sept. 16.

In his written address, Fox said democracy should not be restricted "through intransigence and violence" and warned that ignoring established law and institutions could lead to anarchy.

"Whoever attacks our laws and institutions also attacks our history and Mexico," Fox said, according to a written copy of the speech. "No can say that he supports the people when he attacks the people."

The theatrics played out both within and outside the lower house of Congress, whose perimeter was fortified with thousands of federal and local police, concrete barriers, tall metal walls, water cannon trucks and tear gas dispensers. Streets were closed for miles around.

In the city's historic center, meanwhile, thousands of entrenched Lopez Obrador supporters, still disputing his narrow loss at the polls, marched throughout the city shouting that the election was stolen from them.

"No To The Imposition of FECAL!," blared one placard, using an abbreviation for Felipe Calderon, the conservative candidate whose election victory is widely expected to be ratified by the nation's top electoral tribunal any day now.

Lopez Obrador is planning to set up some sort of parallel government, raising the possibility that his supporters will make him shadow president at a gathering in a couple of weeks.

Despite signs that support is waning for Lopez Obrador, die-hard followers say they'll stick with him no matter what.

"We'll never accept Calderon," said Miguel Padilla, who joined thousands of fellow school teachers from Michoacan, in town to protest Fox and support Lopez Obrador. "We will never give up."

Calderon, a member of Fox's conservative National Action Party, or PAN, kept a low profile yesterday. Official figures show he defeated Lopez Obrador by about 240,000 votes, a margin of victory of 0.58 percent.

Mexico's electoral tribunal rejected Lopez Obrador's claims of fraud but hasn't certified Calderon's victory.

The court must declare a winner by Wednesday, and analysts are virtually unanimous in predicting it will be Calderon, who has promised to continue the same free-market, pro-U.S. policies Fox championed.

Fox highlighted those policies in his speech. He stressed positive economic indicators - low inflation, declining external debt and record low interest rates. Fox also recognized the shortcomings of his six-year reign, saying poverty has caused millions of Mexicans to flee north in search of work and acknowledging that crime is still too high.

Though Mexico remained economically stable under Fox, job creation fell far short of the demand. And while he ushered in democratic reforms, he will leave his successor with a rebellious, angry opposition convinced that he rigged the elections for his successor.

Just a few years ago Fox led a political rebellion of his own.

He rallied rich and poor Mexicans alike behind the simple but powerful idea that it was time to throw out the politicians from the seemingly invincible Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which had ruled Mexico with an iron fist for seven decades.

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