Fox ally wins Chiapas election and promises talks with rebels

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The Independent US

An ally of Vicente Fox, Mexico's president-elect, has won the governorship of the troubled state of Chiapas, toppling the ruling party with a promise to move toward peace with the Zapatista rebels.

An ally of Vicente Fox, Mexico's president-elect, has won the governorship of the troubled state of Chiapas, toppling the ruling party with a promise to move toward peace with the Zapatista rebels.

To the accompaniment of mariachi bands and marimbas, Pablo Salazar shouted: "We won! We won! We won!" to thousands of people waving flags and clutching balloons on the blocked-off main avenue of the state capital yesterday.

Six weeks ago Mr Fox defeated the Institutional Revolutionary Party in the presidential elections. But Mr Salazar's excitement at defeating the party that has led Mexico for 71 years was mixed with calls for reconciliation and moves toward peace in a state wracked by guerrilla conflict, paramilitary attacks and bloody conflicts over land and religion.

"There is no task more important than peace and reconciliation between brothers," Mr Salazar told the crowd as he reached out both to the rebels in Chiapas' impoverished jungle canyons and to the defeated PRI candidate, Sami David.

Mr Salazar, a Nazarene Sunday school teacher, said he is the first practising Protestant to be elected governor in this overwhelmingly Catholic nation - and this in a state where more than 30,000 people have been violently forced from their villages for abandoning Indian variants of Catholicism to join evangelical churches.

"Don't fail us!" the crowd chanted, repeating the words that greeted Mr Fox as he faced celebrating supporters in Mexico City after his victory. Mr Fox's National Action Party was among eight in a coalition that backed Mr Salazar. Both men take office in December. "I cannot fail you," Mr Salazar replied. "I am not going to fail you." Mr Fox - who backed Mr Salazar but did not campaign for him - said the election "confirms the will of the citizens to promote the changes Mexico needs by way of democracy, legality and peace".

He also repeated his pledge to try to restart peace talks with the Zapatista National Liberation Army by meeting some of their demands: pulling back federal troops and pushing Zapatista-backed Indian rights legislation drafted by a commission that included Mr Salazar.

Federal peace talks with the Zapatistas stalled in 1996 when the outgoing president, Ernesto Zedillo, balked at the proposal. A ceasefire two weeks after the Zapatistas' January 1994 rebellion has held, but the revolt led to repeated clashes between emboldened dissidents and pro-government groups that critics - including Mr Salazar - say have been armed by the state or army.

Since the last elections in 1994, three governors have been forced to resign over crises rooted in the rebellion. Political instability is nothing new. Mr Salazar will become the 167th governor in the 176-year-old state. As his victory was being announced, the state government's television station repeatedly flickered, obscuring the news. (AP)

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