July 17, 2006 4:02 am

Protests in Mexico against poll result

Mexico City on Sunday hosted one of the biggest demonstrations in its history as people from around the country protested against the results of this month’s presidential elections and demanded a full recount of the vote.

According to local police, more than a million people marched on the Zócalo, the city’s main square, in support of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the losing leftwing candidate. Independent estimates suggested the turn-out was slightly smaller.

On July 2, Mr López Obrador, a 52-year-old former Mexico-City mayor, lost to Felipe Calderón of the ruling centre-right National Action party by 0.58 per cent or just 243,000 votes.

He has responded by calling the election “fraudulent”, and has accused Mexico’s electoral authorities of “manipulating the counting”. He has vowed to continue organising mass protests until the country’s electoral authorities give in to his demands for a recount.

At Sunday’s demonstration, which far outnumbered an initial protest last week, Mr López Obrador called on supporters to begin a week of civil resistance and announced another mega rally on July 30 to keep up the pressure on the authorities.

“Democracy and the country’s political stability are at stake,” he told a sea of chanting supporters draped in the gold colours of his Democratic Revolution Party. The rally passed without violence.

Mr López Obrador confirmed last week that his strategy would be to seek an annulment of the election if the authorities did not grant a recount.

The Federal Electoral Tribunal, the highest electoral court, has until September 6 to announce whether it considers there is any merit to the complaints and how it intends to respond.

On Friday Mexican bonds rallied and the peso strengthened to a two-month high against the dollar, which analysts say reflect investors’ growing confidence that Mr López Obrador’s legal complaints will come to nothing and that the authorities will eventually confirm Mr Calderón as president-elect.

The business-friendly Mr Calderón has vowed to continue the economic policies of President Vicente Fox that have helped consolidate macroeconomic stability, reducing interest rates and inflation to historic lows while pushing up international reserves to historic highs.

The campaign team behind Mr Calderón, a 43-year-old Harvard-trained technocrat, has resisted calls for a total recount on the grounds that it is illegal, and last week told foreign journalists that Mexican law does not allow for an annulment of a presidential election.

But on the streets of Mexico City on Sunday, Mr López Obrador’s supporters appeared to be in a confident mood. On Paseo de la Reforma, one of the city’s main avenues, a group of Mexican youth sat on the roof of a lorry beating drums and chanting “vote by vote”, in reference to their insistence on recounting each and every one of the ballots cast.

People of all ages filed past holding posters saying “Hang on López Obrador, the people are rising up” and “We won”. One man dressed in black walked towards the Zócalo with a cardboard coffin balanced on his head with the word “Democracy” painted on the side.

In a radio interview last Friday, Mr López Obrador said he would call off the protests if the authorities granted a recount of the votes. He also said he would accept the result of the recount even if it went against him, though adding that he would only do so “under protest”.

“I won… [and] this election is fraudulent from start to finish.

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