Sat, Jul 15, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Legal battle continues in Mexico

PAPER WAR The National Action Party responded in detail to the leftist opposition Democratic Revolution Party's challenges to the results of the presidential election

AP , MEXICO CITY

Mexico's ruling party was on Thursday finishing written responses designed to knock down a barrage of appeals filed by the leftist Democratic Revolution Party in Mexico's disputed presidential race.

The written responses by the National Action Party (PAN) were the latest in a heated legal battle over who will replace President Vicente Fox when he steps down on Dec. 1. Mexican law limits presidents to one, six-year term.

"Today we will present the last, long briefs that respond completely to every challenge," National Action attorney Cesar Nava said on Thursday.

On Monday, the PAN filed its own challenges at 500 polling places in 129 districts in Tabasco, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Veracruz and Mexico states as well as Mexico City -- all bastions of support for leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

The PAN isn't alleging fraud, but said votes there should be annulled because of human error, such as polling stations set up in improper locations or poll workers who failed to show up on election day and were replaced by officials from Democratic Revolution Party (PRD).

Nava said that if votes from those areas are thrown out, as National Action is seeking, conservative Felipe Calderon would receive an extra 10,000 votes.

He said the PAN's efforts were much more specific, with about 1,000 lawyers working on the appeals nationwide, the majority as unpaid volunteers.

"The errors were nothing grave," he said. "The truth is we are shooting with a lot of precision. We didn't throw an atomic bomb like the one the PRD did. We are shooting with a .22 and our shots are much more precise."

Lopez Obrador is hoping to pressure the Federal Electoral Tribunal to order a ballot-by-ballot recount of the 41 million votes cast in the July 2 election. The official tally showed Calderon winning by fewer than 244,000 votes -- a 0.6 percent margin.

He has filed a barrage of appeals, backed by nine boxes of evidence and a nearly 900-page complaint alleging the election was marred by dirty campaign practices and fraud.

The tribunal, which has the final say on the vote, will in the coming days start weighing the appeals and fraud allegations. It can order a re-count only when there is credible evidence of irregularities, and it must declare a winner by Sept. 6.

Lopez Obrador plans a massive rally tomorrow to promote his cause. Tens of thousands of his supporters left towns and cities across Mexico on Wednesday, driving caravans to the capital to participate in the demonstration.

Late on Wednesday, Lopez Obrador aide Jesus Ortega said more than 40,000 people had begun their journey to Mexico City.

"I hope that it will be an extraordinary, gigantic march that reflects the anger over the fraud," he said.

In the northern industrial city of Monterrey, about 120 protesters at a downtown plaza hung banners that read, "No to electoral fraud! Obrador is president!"

Gelasia Loredo, 66, who lives on a monthly pension of US$150, said she traveled 700km by bus to Mexico City last year to defend Lopez Obrador when he faced criminal charges that were later dropped. The charges would have blocked his bid for the presidency.

"They've been sabotaging him from the beginning," Loredo said. "The people with money are just a handful, but we, the poor, are millions and we're going to defend him."

Lopez Obrador said on Wednesday that there had been "fascist attacks" against him. Among these he said, were television advertisements financed by a business consortium, including a potato chip maker, that warned of radical changes to Mexico without mentioning Lopez Obrador by name.

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