- The Washington Times - Friday, December 1, 2006

MEXICO CITY — Felipe Calderon took the oath of office as Mexico’s president yesterday amid jeers and whistles, in a lightning-fast ceremony before lawmakers who exchanged punches and insults over the conservative leader’s narrow victory.

Mr. Calderon entered through a back door and appeared suddenly on the speaker’s platform, the site of three days of fistfights and sit-ins by lawmakers seeking to control the stage.

Physically protected by sympathetic lawmakers and flanked by outgoing President Vicente Fox, Mr. Calderon ignored the chaos around him and calmly raised his arm as he swore to uphold the constitution in a voice almost inaudible over the noise.

Congress’ leader ordered the national anthem played, momentarily stilling the catcalls and shouting, before Mr. Calderon made a quick exit and Congress adjourned.

“It’s good action,” said California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as he arrived to join other foreign dignitaries — including the first President George Bush, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and Spanish Prince Felipe of Asturias.

They barely warmed their seats in a balcony overlooking the scene before Mr. Calderon departed.

“He did it. He did it,” chanted ruling party lawmakers, who danced and embraced each other in celebration.

The new Mexican leader called on his adversaries to negotiate, but indicated his confidence of governing with or without them.

“I will always be willing to talk, but I won’t await dialogue in order to get to work,” Mr. Calderon told a large and carefully screened crowd of supporters and dignitaries several hours after assuming the presidency.

Mr. Calderon outlined an ambitious agenda to combat underworld violence and poverty, create good-paying jobs, improve Mexico’s global competitiveness and reform the country’s political party system. To do that, he will need the cooperation of Congress, where his political opponents hold the majority.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, of the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), asserts he was robbed of the presidency and has declared himself Mexico’s “legitimate president.”

In September, the Federal Electoral Tribunal declared Mr. Calderon the winner of the disputed race by less than a percentage point.

After the inauguration, Mr. Lopez Obrador led tens of thousands of supporters down Mexico City’s elegant Reforma Avenue, the same boulevard they occupied for weeks this past summer to protest Mr. Calderon’s victory.

Carrying banners that read “Lopez Obrador is president,” the sea of people marched toward the heavily guarded National Auditorium, where Mr. Calderon was to address the nation.

Later in the day, Mr. Calderon was to attend a military ceremony in which army commanders swear allegiance to him.

Mr. Lopez Obrador said he would never recognize Mr. Calderon as president because that “would be accepting fraud.”

“If we don’t protest and we remain silent, there will never be democracy in our country,” he said.

After camping out in Congress for three days in an attempt to control the speaker’s podium and prevent Mr. Calderon from taking office, leftist lawmakers seized the chamber’s entrances yesterday morning.

They draped a giant banner across the chamber reading, “Mexico doesn’t deserve a traitor to democracy as president,” exchanged punches with ruling-party lawmakers and erected barricades of chairs as Calderon supporters chanted, “Mexico wants peace.”

“I have never been in such an exciting session,” said Sen. Santiago Creel, who was Mr. Fox’s former interior secretary.

Mr. Calderon acknowledged the political chaos during an unusual midnight ceremony Thursday in which he took control of the presidential residence from Mr. Fox.”I am not unaware of the complexity of the political times we are living through, nor of our differences,” he said. “But I am convinced that today we should put an end to our disagreements and from there, start a new stage whose only aim would be to place the interests of the nation above our differences.”

FELIPE CALDERON HINOJOSA

New president of Mexico

Born:

Aug. 18, 1962, in Morelia, Mexico.

Family:

Wife, former National Action congresswoman Margarita Zavala. Three children.

Education:

Bachelor’s degree in law, Escuela Libre de Derecho; master’s degree in economics from Instituto Tecnologico Autonomo de Mexico; master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University.

Career highlights:

Son of a founder of the National Action Party, led National Action’s youth movement. Unsuccessfully ran for Michoacan governor in 1995. Twice served as federal congressman. Headed National Action’s executive committee from 1996 to 1999. Director of national development bank Banobras in 2000. Energy secretary from September 2003 to May 2004. Elected president July 2, narrowly defeating Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

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