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Lopez Obrador Pledges to Continue Protests

Times Staff Writer

Runner-up presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told thousands of supporters Sunday that he would step up his civil disobedience campaign, starting with a mass rally today in front of the election tribunal that rejected his demand for a national recount.

“Do you all agree that we take this assembly to the tribunal?” Lopez Obrador asked the protesters who have camped for a week in the capital’s central square, the Zocalo, and along nearly five miles of the Paseo de la Reforma, the main boulevard.

“There, we’ll ask the tribunal judges to rectify their decision and to accept opening up all the ballot boxes and counting all the votes,” he said. “It’s for the well-being of the nation and of all Mexicans.”

The crowd cheered.

Lopez Obrador, who heads the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, alleges that Mexico’s July 2 presidential election was tainted by fraud and errors. He has demanded a recount of all 41 million ballots cast after losing by less than a percentage point, or about 244,000 votes.

The seven-judge panel, however, unanimously agreed Saturday to order only a partial recount -- 9% of polling stations, in 26 states -- because of apparent arithmetic mistakes or other irregularities. That will involve a recount of several million votes by next week.

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According to the official count, the election was won by Felipe Calderon, of President Vicente Fox’s National Action Party, who ran on a pro-free market platform. Lopez Obrador supporters, unhappy with the Fox administration, had sought more help for the poor and unemployed in the next six-year presidential term, which begins Dec. 1.

Millions of men and women have crossed the border into the United States because Fox has failed to deliver on promises of expanding the Mexican economy and creating new jobs. The Lopez Obrador campaign theme, “For the good of all, first the poor,” raised hopes among the left-leaning middle class and the impoverished that he would end privileges enjoyed by the rich.

Lopez Obrador led in polls for most of the campaign and jammed town squares with supporters during his cross-country appearances, and many followers cannot believe that he could have lost. And neither can he.

With the slogan “Vote by vote,” Lopez Obrador engineered a campaign to try to force a recount; nearly half the country, according to polls, believes it is a reasonable demand. A week ago, he cranked up pressure on the tribunal, urging his supporters to set up camp in the Zocalo and along the Reforma, which runs through the heart of the capital.

After a week of living on the street and enduring nightly rainstorms, many protesters waiting for Lopez Obrador to appear at Sunday’s rally were angry over the tribunal’s decision.

Some chanted, “Airport! Airport!” calling for a blockade of streets surrounding Mexico City’s international airport. Others yelled for a takeover of the congressional building or of the National Palace, the official seat of the executive branch. Some suggested a boycott of businesses allegedly in league against Lopez Obrador.

For a few minutes, the rally had the trappings of a town hall meeting.

Jesusa Rodriguez, an actress coordinating entertainment at the street camps, responded to the calls for more dramatic actions against the government from the giant stage set up in the Zocalo.

“Violence is the easy way; that’s what they use,” she said over the massive public address system. “We have to use our heads.... In peaceful civil resistance, people have to ask, ‘What is the best idea?’ ... You have to think of consequences.”

When Lopez Obrador finally took the stage, two hours after the rally was to begin, he covered familiar themes: the election was corrupt, the government is corrupt, and the future of Mexico is at stake.

Then he asked the crowd to support a rally in front of the tribunal offices.

“To my adversaries,” he said, “There is no need for overkill, to call the army. We’ll gather in a peaceful manner.”

Even so, it was not good news for residents of the capital, where traffic has been at a standstill because of the protesters. Now, thousands of the demonstrators, or tens of thousands, will travel to the south of the city during today’s late-afternoon commute.

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Carlos Martinez in The Times’ Mexico City Bureau contributed to this report.


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