Jungle meeting plans to topple government

A SO-CALLED National Democratic Convention, organised in Mexico's lush Lacandona jungle by a guerrilla leader, subcomandante Marcos, ended with a call for a national campaign of civil resistance against the 65- year-old rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

A tropical rainstorm on Tuesday washed out the assembly of 5,000 worker, peasant, student and Indian groups, as well as writers and intellectuals, that was held in a jungle clearing. Earlier, Mr Marcos called on Mexicans to fight without arms to change the system. The 'civil resistance' campaign could include a general strike, power cuts and other disruptive acts.

Retaining his black balaclava after the delegates shouted 'no' when he asked whether he should remove it, the man who led the January revolt in the south-eastern state of Chiapas said the guerrillas would remain on the sidelines for the time being. 'It's not the hour of arms. We shall step aside but we shall not go away,' he said.

The convention set up a 100- member commission, headed by a left-wing politician, Rosario Ibarra and including the writer, Elena Poniatowski. It was entrusted with organising peaceful anti-PRI protests and with pressing for the convention's main goal. This is to set up a transitional government, to lead Mexico from what is effectively a one-party system, and a constituent assembly to rewrite the 1917 constitution.

Mrs Ibarra has led a long campaign of mothers whose left-wing sons or daughters disappeared in the Seventies. She believes her teenage son was murdered by the authorities. Before the downpour brought down a giant tarpaulin roof and ended the proceedings, the delegates sang the national anthem and Mr Marcos handed Mrs Ibarra a Mexican flag.

The convention seems aimed at mobilising support against the PRI before the 21 August presidential and legislative elections. But it did not come out in favour of the opposition candidates.

Mr Marcos, a charismatic non- Indian, whose Zapatista National Liberation Army mainly comprises Mayan Indians, implied his men would fight again if the election results are considered fraudulent and the PRI continue to govern. 'We are ready to shed more blood and face more death if that is the price of achieving democratic change in Mexico,' he said. In a speech as poetic as it was political, He described the amphitheatre, hacked out by his men from the jungle, as 'a Noah's ark, a tower of Babel, a pirate ship.'

(Photograph omitted)