Fears of more violence in Mexico as protesters refuse to concede election

David Usborne
Friday 18 August 2006 00:00

Political tensions continued to mount in Mexico as supporters of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the leftist candidate who came a tantalisingly close second in the 2 July presidential election, maintained their blockade of the main avenues of the capital, Mexico City, into a third week.

Mr Lopez Obrador shows no sign of giving up his post-election contention that the result was skewed by fraud and conspiracy.

On Monday, the protests, which have paralysed much of central Mexico City, erupted in violence when protesters attempted to blockade the Congress building. As many as 30 demonstrators, including several members of Mr Lopez Obrador's PRD Party, were hurt in clashes with police.

The fightingadded to fears that the demonstrations could quickly degenerate into further violence. Protesters have already set up camps in the main square of the capital and along a two-mile stretch of its main boulevard. They are blocking entrances to banks and have seized toll booths on main motorways.

Acting on his complaints, Mexico's electoral tribunal completed a recount of ballots cast at 9 per cent of the polling stations on Sunday. It has not yet released its findings. The tribunal, made up of seven magistrates, has until 31 August to rule on the complaints. They must formally name the new president by 6 September.

Media reports in Mexico have suggested that the partial recount may have shifted the numbers very slightly away from Mr Calderon and revealed scattered problems, including mathematical errors in the count. But the problems do not seem to be on a scale sufficient to change his status as the winner, or lead the tribunal to accept Mr Lopez Obrador's demands for a full recount of every vote.

Most analysts still believe that Felipe Calderon will finally be declared the winner. In the first count, he held a razor-thin margin of 244,000 votes over Mr Lopez Obrador, equivalent to about half of one per cent.

A spokesman for the PRD this week implicitly accepted that Mr Calderon may in the end take the keys to the presidential residence. But Gerardo Fernandez warned: "He will be a president under siege... he will not be able to operate outside his office."

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