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Zedillo, Up in Polls, Moves to Bolster Regime

March 03, 1995|MARK FINEMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MEXICO CITY — President Ernesto Zedillo and his government moved to close ranks and consolidate short-term political gains Thursday, as investigators continued to widen a political assassination probe that instantly changed the face of Mexican politics with the arrest this week of a former president's brother.

"What is left (is) clear--nobody can be outside of the law," Zedillo, appearing at rallies in the state of Tlaxcala, declared. "In Mexico, this is the end of impunity, and I am counting on the support of the Mexican people to make impunity a fact of our nation's past."

He spoke after this week's arrest of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari's elder brother, Raul, who is charged with helping to mastermind the slaying of Francisco Ruiz Massieu, the secretary general of Mexico's ruling party.

Raul Salinas' arrest came five days after the Zedillo administration apprehended a suspected second gunman in the murder of ruling party presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio. The two assassinations were the most devastating political murders in Mexico in more than six decades.

The government of Carlos Salinas has been accused of covering up the Colosio murder, and late Thursday the former president told the independent Television Azteca that he will begin a fast today that will last until his name is cleared.

Sources confirmed that Zedillo met behind closed doors Wednesday with his entire Cabinet for the first time since taking office in early December, then summoned state governors to another private meeting that lasted until almost midnight.

In what aides and outside analysts called strategy sessions to strengthen the government internally and its hold on power, Zedillo specifically addressed the key senior officials who had served--along with the president himself--in top positions in the Salinas administration.

Asked the purpose of the meetings, one aide was quoted as saying, "closing ranks."

"There are no groups" within the government, the aide quoted Zedillo as telling his officials. The president sought to reassure them, the aide said, that "the government is one (unified)" after Zedillo's unprecedented decision to permit the arrest of Raul Salinas, 48.

That arrest broke a decades-long tradition in which Mexican presidents did little to trouble their predecessors or their families, who, in turn, kept their silence once out of office.

Opinion polls showing that Zedillo's popularity, as a result of the Tuesday arrest of the elder Salinas, had soared--and his predecessor's had hit rock bottom.

But analysts and political observers said the Salinas arrest threatened to polarize the ruling party between hard-liners and reformers, and Zedillo's strategy meetings appeared to be aimed at shoring up his presidency from within.

*

In other events Thursday:

* Federal prosecutors grilled former Deputy Atty. Gen. Mario Ruiz Massieu for almost six hours under oath to try to determine why his two-month investigation into the spectacular assassination last fall of his brother, Francisco Ruiz Massieu, turned up no evidence linking the crime to Raul Salinas.

* Tijuana police arrested another suspect in the shooting death of Colosio, the government news agency Notimex reported. Authorities said Mario Alberto Carrillo, 22, was seen in a video diving at Colosio's feet as a gun was pointed at the candidate's head during the deadly March 23 campaign rally.

* Zedillo again took the initiative in the embattled southern state of Chiapas, presenting to the Mexican Senate, as well as a multi-party legislative peace committee he created in December, a sweeping draft law to initiate a dialogue with the rebels and to work toward lasting peace through a permanent, new reconciliation commission. The commission would negotiate with the Zapatista National Liberation Army. Congress set Monday as the date for an extraordinary congressional session to debate the proposed law.

* The ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, stung by the Salinas arrest and allegations of far-reaching, internecine feuds and conspiracies in connection with the assassinations last year of two top party officials, scheduled a celebration tonight of its 66 years in power. Officials confirmed that internal party reform will be a major theme of the event.

* In Washington, Secretary of State Warren Christopher applauded Zedillo's government for its handling of its relations with the United States and for its evenhanded law enforcement. "Despite the trauma that it must have been, I think it was exactly the right decision for him to make with respect to the prosecution of President Salinas' brother," he told a House subcommittee, adding: "None of us would want to try to prejudge the results of that."

Family Friction

Zedillo's prosecutors appeared on Thursday to widen the investigation into the Sept. 28 assassination of Francisco Ruiz Massieu, the PRI's former secretary general, suggesting that his own brother may have been involved in a cover-up to protect the elder Salinas.

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