Fri, Jul 21, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Tensions threaten to boil over in Mexico stand-off

DEGENERATING A few incidents of vandalism and harassment sparked calls for calm, as one candidate continued to dispute the presidential poll's outcome


Scuffles, vandalism and angry accusations by supporters of Mexico's two presidential rivals brought the capital nearly to a boiling point, as politicians appealed for calm to prevent the election dispute from erupting into violence.

Leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has called on his backers to mount a civil resistance campaign against what they claim is vote fraud that helped his conservative Felipe Calderon win the July 2 vote.

Calderon was harassed on Tuesday by a knot of leftists who banged on his car and screamed "pig" at him. In turn, the conservative and his staff on Wednesday touted support from a purported union "leader" who doesn't appear to hold any post.

Calderon's staff introduced Gaston Saenz as a top adviser of the Electrical Workers Union, and stood by smiling as Saenz pronounced the election clean.

But union chief of staff Enrique Bernal later said Saenz was a retired member of the union, and that he currently held no post and did not speak for the group.

Calderon's campaign did not issue a formal response to the union's claim and a spokeswoman was not immediately available for further comment.

Earlier on Wednesday a pro-Lopez Obrador art display was vandalized at a downtown park, and local media reported that cars bearing bumper stickers in favor of both candidates had been vandalized. A group of pro-Lopez Obrador protesters also briefly blocked a Banamex bank branch in the capital's historic downtown.

"We shouldn't get into a situation of violence," said Enrique Cuevas, the host of a news program for the Formato 21 radio station. "We are falling to a low political level that isn't going to lead us anywhere."

An official tally gave Calderon a 244,000-vote advantage, a margin of less than 0.6 percent of the total vote in the July 2 race. Lopez Obrador has challenged the lead in Mexico's top electoral court, which must rule on appeals by Aug. 31 and declare a president-elect by Sept. 6.

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