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Hundreds of thousands rally for Lopez Obrador

MEXICO CITY – Hundreds of thousands of Mexicans celebrated their Independence Day holiday Saturday in a mass rally to denounce the winner of the July 2 presidential election and pledge their allegiance to the losing candidate.

With a show of hands, the huge crowd of delegates to the so-called National Democratic Convention agreed to recognize leftist politician Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as the country’s rightful president and join a campaign of boycotts and civil disobedience under his direction.

“This is the beginning of the road to building a new Republic,” Lopez Obrador said in an acceptance speech that, in familiar themes, lashed out at Mexico’s rich and the politicians who protect them.

While it was unclear how Lopez Obrador would establish a parallel government, or whether the vote was only a political threat, the rally was a strong rebuke of National Action Party candidate Felipe Calderon, who defeated Lopez Obrador by slightly more than half a percentage point.

Lopez Obrador’s presidency has no legal standing, and federal government officials had no response to the convention late Saturday.

Delegates agreed Lopez Obrador should take office on Nov. 20, a national holiday commemorating the start of Mexico’s 1910 revolution. They also supported a boycott of such major companies as Wal-Mart and Coca-Cola that are among a group of businesses that Lopez Obrador accused of illegally supporting Calderon’s campaign.

The presidential election divided Mexico between those who believed the country was advancing well enough with expanded trade and investment, and Lopez Obrador supporters, who believed the global market was leaving many people behind.

Lopez Obrador, a charismatic speaker and hard-ball politician, has energized core supporters and alienated many others for failing to accept the election outcome.

International observers said the vote count was legitimate, but Lopez Obrador alleged it was illegally tilted in favor of Calderon.

After Lopez Obrador lost his court battle for a national recount, he began building an opposition movement that he promised would reduce Mexico’s poverty, end corruption and expand public social services.

Critics say Lopez Obrador is more like an autocratic politician out of Mexico’s past than a progressive democratic leader. The convention appeared mainly a popularity contest with no doubt about the outcome.

Saturday’s rally filled the central square, known as the Zocalo, and spilled into surrounding blocks.

Hours earlier, President Vicente Fox presided over the annual Independence Day military parade on the same spot, drawing a few hecklers.

Fox had planned to give the traditional shout for independence – an echo of Miguel Hidalgo’s call for rebellion against Spain 196 years ago – from a balcony overlooking the Zocalo on Friday night, as he did last year.

But Lopez Obrador, whose supporters had transformed the Zocalo into a protest camp, said he also planned to give the shout of independence there.

Fears of confrontation with Lopez Obrador supporters forced Fox in last-minute negotiations to move his ceremony to Dolores Hidalgo, the site of Hidalgo’s original call. The mayor of Mexico City, a Lopez Obrador ally, gave the cry in the Zocalo.