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Fox Moves Ceremony to Avoid Protesters

Amid safety concerns, Mexico's president shifts the traditional `yell of independence' north.

September 15, 2006|Hector Tobar | Times Staff Writer

MEXICO CITY — President Vicente Fox will not give Mexico's traditional "yell of independence" from the balcony of the National Palace here tonight to avoid a confrontation with defeated presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and thousands of his supporters, officials said Thursday.

The decision marks the second time in two weeks that Fox has bowed out of a Mexican political tradition in the face of protests on behalf of Lopez Obrador, who narrowly lost the July 2 election to Felipe Calderon of Fox's National Action Party, or PAN.

Fox will instead travel about 170 miles northwest of the capital for a ceremony in Dolores Hidalgo, the town in Guanajuato state where the tradition began when Father Miguel Hidalgo called on Mexicans to rebel against colonial Spain in 1810.

Lopez Obrador contends that the election was stolen through fraud, a charge dismissed by the nation's top electoral court, which last week declared Calderon the winner. On Sept. 1, leftist legislators seized control of the dais at a joint session of Congress, preventing Fox from delivering his State of the Nation speech.

Past presidents have occasionally traveled to Dolores Hidalgo -- most recently in 1994 -- to deliver the traditional yell, or grito, leading the crowd in a chant of "Viva, Mexico!" Fox's office had been insisting for two weeks that he would continue with the recent practice of holding the ceremony in Mexico City.

Lopez Obrador has been suggesting that he and his supporters will give their own independence yell at the same time as Fox. Many observers expressed concern for the president's safety in the face of a hostile crowd of thousands expected to gather tonight in the Zocalo, the plaza that faces the National Palace.

On Thursday, with hundreds of Lopez Obrador supporters beginning to assemble in the square, Mexico's Senate unanimously passed a resolution asking Fox to move the ceremony to Dolores Hidalgo.

The possibility of competing celebrations conducted within yards of each other "might result in an undesirable confrontation that could impact our republican traditions," Sen. Santiago Creel of PAN said.

According to media reports, Calderon also supported moving Fox's ceremony.

Leaders of Lopez Obrador's Democratic Revolution Party on Wednesday called on Fox to leave Mexico City and conduct his celebration elsewhere.

On Wednesday night, Lopez Obrador supporters briefly tussled with soldiers who tried, without success, to keep the leftists from installing a camp in the Zocalo near the balcony of the National Palace.

But on Thursday morning, thousands of Lopez Obrador supporters were removing their barricades and tents from Paseo de la Reforma, the city's main boulevard. The barricades have been in place since July 30, but Lopez Obrador said they would be lifted to allow a military parade, scheduled for Saturday.

Hidalgo was a parish priest in Dolores, now called Dolores Hidalgo, when he launched the Mexican rebellion against Spain two centuries ago from the steps of his church. He was later captured, defrocked and executed.

On Thursday, residents said they were pleasantly surprised at Fox's decision to visit.

"It's been a long time since a president's been here," Cecilia Martinez, 18, said in a telephone interview. "They always promise they'll come, but they never show up."

hector.tobar@latimes.com

Carlos Martinez of The Times' Mexico City Bureau contributed to this report.

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