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Mexico braced for power tussle

Following allegations of murder against former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari and his brother, Mexico faces a bloody power struggle for control of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and with it the Mexican political system. Some PRI officials predict "all-out war" within the party.

Officials privately predicted yesterday that President Salinas would fight back against any allegations that he and his brother may have been behind last September's killing of the PRI secretary-general, Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu. They said that Mr Salinas's successor, Ernesto Zedillo, may be trying to save his own political skin.

The country's political drama took an even more unreal twist when prosecutors grilled Mr Massieu's brother, Mario, Deputy Attorney-General until last November. The special prosecutor, Pablo Chapa Bezanilla, said there were indications Mr Ruiz Massieu may have covered up evidence of Mr Salinas's alleged involvement in the killing.

The fact that Mr Ruiz Massieu has been the leading campaigner to clarify his brother's murder, however, and resigned because the Salinas government was allegedly impeding his investigations, left Mexicans totally confused as to who are the good guys, or, at least, who are the least bad.

Were the allegations against the Salinas brothers to founder for lack of proof, Mr Salinas could win back support and underline Mr Zedillo's image as Mexico's weakest-ever President, jettisoning friends and flip- flopping on policies in an attempt to retain power. Last week, rumours were rife that the PRI, backed by the army, was considering ousting Mr Zedillo for his inept performance and restoring Mr Salinas as head of an emergency government.

After ordering the arrest of Mr Salinas's 48-year-old brother, Raul, a multi-millionaire businessman, on Tuesday, Mr Chapa Bezanilla stunned the nation by publicly implying that the former president himself may have been involved. "He [Mr Ruiz Massieu] could have got in the way of some projects, of the Salinista project," Mr Chapa Bezanilla said.

The "Salinista project" is the term used to described Mr Salinas's political and economic policies during his 1988-94 term.

Mr Salinas responded that he himself had promoted Mr Ruiz Massieu to secretary-general of the party that has controlled Mexico for 65 years. Mr Salinas's lawyer said that there was "no basis" for the charges, that the so-called evidence was based on "hearsay" and that the Salinas brothers and Mr Ruiz Massieu had been lifelong friends.

While polls showed mostMexicans backed Mr Zedillo in the affair, and few trusted Mr Salinas, many question both the prosecutor and the President. Some believe Mr Zedillo may be throwing up a smokescreen to deflect criticism of his rule and boost his image as a reformer.