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Massive Mexico rally demands recount

Mon., July 17, 2006

MEXICO CITY – Blaring horns and beating drums, an estimated million protesters from all over Mexico converged on the capital Sunday to call for a recount in the country’s still-undecided July 2 presidential election.

The outpouring was by far the largest demonstration yet in support of former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a left-leaning populist who claims fraud was widespread in his narrow loss to conservative ruling party candidate Felipe Calderon.

The rally, possibly the largest in the city’s 681-year history, seemed to boost the political case for a recount, if not the legal one, which is now before a special election tribunal. Organizers of Lopez Obrador’s Party of the Democratic Revolution, known as the PRD, distributed copies of newspaper editorials worldwide calling for a recount, if not for Lopez Obrador then to affirm Mexico’s nascent democracy and Calderon’s victory.

Lopez Obrador called on his followers to continue a nationwide campaign of “passive civil resistance in the defense of democracy.”

The protests will end, he said, when there’s a recount.

Calderon denies any fraud and opposes a recount, saying recent elections in Germany and Italy were closer than his. Uncertified results give him a margin of victory of fewer than 244,000 votes out of 41 million.

Despite concerns about possible violence and social unrest, police reported no serious incidents among the festive columns of marchers converging on the Zocalo, Mexico City’s historic central square.

“Demanding a recount of every vote is not violence, it is democracy,” said Mexican actress and political activist Jesusa Rodriguez, one of the leaders of the march. “It is those who oppose a recount who are complicit in violence.”

The demonstration was a massive reprise of a rally last weekend that brought an estimated 300,000 people to the Zocalo. Though the latest march seemed to represent a cross-section of Mexican society, the crowd skewed largely toward Lopez Obrador’s political base, including the elderly, working class and poor.

“I work the land and I say (Lopez Obrador’s) name with pride,” said 62-year-old Miguel Gomez, a leathery-faced farmworker who came to Mexico City in a caravan of buses from the coastal state of Michoacan. “We say clearly, this election was not clean, fair or democratic.”

Seventy-year-old widow Maria Crisanta, an indigenous woman with gray pigtails who sells fruit and vegetables in the city streets, was also among the marchers. “I think Lopez Obrador won,” she said. “I came to see the true president of Mexico.”

Police reported a crowd of more than 800,000 people in the Zocalo by 1 p.m., long before Lopez Obrador arrived at the head of a column of more supporters streaming down the Paseo de la Reforma, the city’s central boulevard. Other city streets around the Zocalo looked like rivers of people, many of them waving the yellow flags of Lopez Obrador’s coalition.

By late afternoon, police reported that the crowd had reached a million or more. The Mexico City daily El Universal called it the largest political rally in the city’s history.

Lopez Obrador, who considers himself a champion of the dispossessed, has long been able to call his supporters into the streets. His latest show of force came a day after a poll in another Mexico City daily, Reforma, suggested that Mexicans are tiring of the election standoff and that support for Lopez Obrador is waning.

Strategists for Calderon’s National Action Party, or PAN, heralded the poll results. Lopez Obrador’s backers dismissed them as biased.


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