Tue, Aug 29, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Mexico starts marathon vote recount

POLITICAL HAVOC Lopez Obrador promised long-term national protests even if the court rules against him, while Chiapas and Oaxaca continued to be wracked by turmoil

AP , MEXICO CITY

Mexican presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is greeted by supporters at the main Zocalo plaza in Mexico City on Sunday. Supporters of Lopez Obrador are demanding a vote-by-vote recount of the July 2 elections.

PHOTO: AP

Mexico's top electoral court announced a marathon session starting yesterday to rule on challenges to the July 2 presidential election, but feuds in two southern states exacerbated the country's political turmoil and protesters said they might try to seize foreign embassies.

The Federal Electoral Tribunal said it would rule on all 375 challenges to official results, which showed ruling party candidate Felipe Calderon with a 240,000-vote advantage over leftist former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

By law, the court is supposed to resolve all complaints by Thursday; it can throw out results from some polling places or even the whole election. It then has until Sept. 6 to calculate the adjusted results and certify a winner.

Lopez Obrador has led massive street protests and blockades alleging that his loss, by less than 0.6 percent, was due to fraud and promises long-term national protests even if the court rules against him.

Lopez Obrador, who ran with the Democratic Revolution Party, has called for a massive meeting on Sept. 16. He told thousands of cheering supporters in Mexico City's central plaza on Sunday that he would ask them to decide if he should be declared alternative Mexican president or simply continue to head a massive civil resistance movement for years to come.

Calderon's conservative National Action Party also has filed own challenges to some local results, seeking to increase its lead.

Mexican presidents are limited to a single six-year term and Fox leaves office on Dec. 1.

The tables were turned on Sunday in another disputed election: Election officials in Mexico's volatile, southernmost state, Chiapas, ruled that Democratic Revolution candidate Juan Sabines had won the governorship by about 6,300 votes over Jose Antonio Aguilar of the Institutional Revolutionary Party.

Fox's National Action Party threw its support to Aguilar late in the campaign in a last-ditch effort to halt Sabines -- and it is now backing his attempt to overturn that election, arguing that outgoing Governor Pablo Salazar illegally intervened to favor Sabines.

Chiapas' jungle region and highlands have been in turmoil since 1994, when masked Zapatista guerrillas briefly seized several cities and towns.

Neighboring Oaxaca state is also in turmoil. Striking teachers and leftist sympathizers have paralyzed much of the state capital since May.

On Sunday, protesters said they would take their protest to a national level, possibly by trying to seize foreign embassies in Mexico City, if federally mediated negotiations fail to make substantial progress.

The union declared on Sunday that if negotiations for a settlement stall, "it is necessary to carry out actions in Mexico City such as the taking of embassies, pressuring the interior ministry and the Senate."

At least 40,000 teachers occupied the central plaza in Oaxaca city in May, demanding pay raises. But when state Governor Ulises Ruiz sent police to evict the strikers, thousands of leftists, anarchists and students joined the protest -- burning city buses, seizing radio and television stations and erecting street barricades.

Protesters are now demanding Ruiz's ouster. Two people have been killed, dozens more injured and tourists have abandoned the city.

President Vicente Fox's top Cabinet member, Interior Secretary Carlos Abascal, said last week that federal officials in Mexico City would mediate negotiations to end the standoff.

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