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Mexicans Rally in Support of Recount

Backers of Lopez Obrador heed his call, as the nation's electoral tribunal prepares to consider his appeal.

July 17, 2006|Richard Boudreaux | Times Staff Writer

MEXICO CITY — Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador led a massive protest march to Mexico City's central square Sunday and called for peaceful civil resistance to press his demand for a full recount in the presidential election he narrowly lost to a conservative rival.

The marchers, in the hundreds of thousands, stretched 10 abreast for about four miles along Paseo de la Reforma, the main thoroughfare. They jammed the square, the Zocalo, in the heart of the capital, under a festive sea of yellow banners and spilled for blocks down nearby streets.

Despite the crowd's size, it did not appear to represent growing public support for the leftist challenger's effort to overturn his defeat by 244,000 votes in the July 2 election. Dozens of marchers interviewed all said they had voted for Lopez Obrador and knew of no one in the crowd who had not.

But the outpouring demonstrated the fiery populist's capacity to mobilize his hard-core supporters, adding tension to a legal battle over the election results.

Lopez Obrador hopes the crowds will help sway the Federal Electoral Tribunal as it begins this week to consider his request for a recount of the 41 million votes cast. Felipe Calderon of the governing National Action Party prevailed in the official count, but the tribunal has yet to certify his victory.

The challenger's Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, filed an appeal last week contending that unfair campaign practices had tilted the entire election process in Calderon's favor, and that sloppy or fraudulent counting had cost Lopez Obrador more than a million votes.

"We cannot accept that a privileged group uses illegal means, money and tricks to impose an illegitimate president," Lopez Obrador declared Sunday, speaking from a raised platform in the Zocalo. "Don't forget that we are millions, ready to validate our rights, and this is the more powerful force."

He called another rally for July 30, before the court case is expected to be decided, and set a goal of doubling the size of Sunday's crowd.

Police officials subordinate to the PRD-led city government said 1.1 million people took part in the daylong protest. Notimex, the semiofficial news agency of the conservative-led federal government, estimated 700,000 were present.

More cautious estimates by Mexican media put the crowd at half a million, still bigger than any rally during the presidential campaign and double the size of Lopez Obrador's initial postelection protest rally July 8.

Many marchers were bused in by the PRD. Party officials said the protesters came from every state in Mexico.

The demonstrators were so numerous that the Roman Catholic Church canceled Mass at the cathedral on the Zocalo. Most marchers stopped short of the giant square as it filled up, and some watched the candidate's speech on a stadium-size screen blocks away.

Eugenia Leon, one of Mexico's best-known singers, stood with Lopez Obrador on the stage and belted out lyrics written for the occasion: "Our beautiful nation will not stand for another fraud."

A naked bicyclist with anti-fraud messages painted on his body weaved through the crowd as demonstrators sent up balloons, set off firecrackers, danced to cumbia bands and held up banners demonizing Calderon.

The apparent president-elect has stood firm against a full recount while asking his party to avoid clashes with PRD supporters. Last week he introduced his transition team and began planning a victory tour of the country.

In his speech, Lopez Obrador warned Calderon that he would have trouble governing if he was allowed to take office without a full recount.

"I call on the rightist candidate to act responsibly," Lopez Obrador said. "If he maintains that he won, he has no reason to refuse. I recommend that he think about it: The stain of electoral fraud cannot be erased with all the water of the oceans."

Last week, Lopez Obrador said he would call off his protests if the tribunal agreed to his recount request. His speech Sunday warned of "irrational confrontation," economic instability and social unrest if it did not.

Yet after whipping his partisans into a fist-pumping frenzy, he sent them home with little idea of what to do next. He said a "citizens committee" would meet this week to decide what kind of acts of resistance to undertake.

"We haven't decided yet what to do," Leonel Cota, the PRD president, told reporters after the speech.

The party's options are limited. Mexico's biggest labor federation, the National Union of Workers, said last week that it would await the tribunal ruling rather than join a campaign of pressure. That ruled out the possibility that Lopez Obrador could mobilize labor strikes by the group, which endorsed him during the campaign.

"I don't think there will be any more civil resistance than you're seeing already -- just marches and demonstrations," said Alejandro Bernal, a PRD official. "We are not going to do anything that would impinge on the rights of others. That would give ammunition to those who ran a scare campaign calling Lopez Obrador a danger to the country."

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Times staff writer Cecilia Sanchez contributed to this report.

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