A Mexican leftist fighting to overturn a tight presidential election he said was plagued with fraud will try to shut down the capital's main business district yesterday to push for a vote-by-vote recount.
Government officials said some 1.2 million of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's supporters filled the capital's streets chanting "no to fraud" and calling for a recount of the 41.7 million ballots cast in the July 2 election.
Thousands of Lopez Obrador's supporters seized control of the imposing Zocalo square in Mexico City on Sunday night as well as a long stretch of elegant Reforma Boulevard, which runs through the center of the capital.
As police looked on, the protesters set up tents and tarpaulin covers in the middle of the wide boulevard and said they would block it to all traffic yesterday.
That could cut off Mexico's stock market, luxury hotels, government offices, the US Embassy and the headquarters of major international corporations.
"They wanted to steal the elections from us but we are not giving in," said Magdalena Salazar, a middle-aged woman who danced in the Zocalo as a salsa band called "Minimum Wage" played into the early hours yesterday.
"If they don't pay attention to us, we'll shut the city down," she said. Nearby, hundreds of other Lopez Obrador supporters from around the country tried to grab some sleep on the ground, curling up on blankets and strips of cardboard.
Fully in control of of the capital's historic center, other small groups danced, sang and played soccer on major roads.
Lopez Obrador led hundreds of thousands of supporters through the city to the Zocalo, the heart of both the Aztec Empire and modern Mexico. Lopez Obrador said he had no doubt he won the election.
"They couldn't beat us with votes and that's why they refuse to open the ballot boxes and do a recount," he said.
Felipe Calderon, a conservative lawyer of the ruling National Action Party, beat Lopez Obrador by just 244,000 votes, or less than 0.6 percentage points.
But his leftist rival, who made a promise to put the government at the service of the poor, claims the returns were tampered with at more than half of the polling stations.
On July 18 his Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) sent an 836-page document to the court claiming that the vote was invalid. They have also supplied videos and other alleged evidence of cheating to back their claim.
The result of the election now lies with Mexico's electoral court. Lopez Obrador says he will only accept the result if a full recount is ordered, while Calderon insists his victory be recognized.
"I had powerful, very charismatic adversaries. But I won cleanly," Calderon told the court on Sunday.
The seven judges have to decide whether to reopen some or all of the ballot boxes by Aug. 31. That means Lopez Obrador's occupation of the capital could last for weeks.
The electoral court, which has the power to call for a partial or a full vote recount, must declare the official victor in the poll by Sept. 6.