Mexican assassination casts shadow over US

Click to follow
Mexico City - Mexico was plunged into the worst crisis of its modern history yesterday after the assassination of the ruling party presidential candidate, Luis Donaldo Colosio, the man virtually certain to have been elected in five months' time as the country's next leader.

The killing also provoked anxiety in the United States, which is grouped with Mexico and Canada in the recently formed North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta). Stocks fell on Wall Street, apparently in response, and a nervous US administration hastened to express sympathy for the Mexican leadership and confidence in the country's political institutions.

President Bill Clinton assured his Mexican counterpart, President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, by telephone that 'the United States stands ready to assist Mexico in any way we can'.

Colosio, 44, died of bullet wounds to the stomach and head after being shot at a crowded open-air rally in Tijuana, a northern town on the border with California. A 23-year-old mechanic, Mario Aburto Martinez, last night admitted he had fired two shots with a .38 revolver. He was being held with an alleged accomplice, Vicente Mayoral Valenzuela, 43.

President Salinas, whose sponsorship of Colosio as presidential candidate of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) had made his election practically a foregone conclusion, went on national television to appeal for calm.

Colosio was shot just after he had finished a speech at Lomas Taurinas, a poor area of the frontier town. He was shaking hands with well-wishers when a young man dressed in black pushed through the crowd and opened fire. The gunman was overpowered by Colosio's bodyguards. The politician was taken to Tijuana general hospital but died three hours later after brain surgery.

The killing comes at a time of unprecedented political instability, linked to the Zapatista guerrilla revolt which broke out in Chiapas province on 1 January. The revolt appeared to be prompted in part by popular discontent about the effect of the Nafta deal on Mexican workers.

Mexico in crisis, page 14

Obituary, page 30

Leading article, page 17