- - Monday, May 28, 2012

MEXICO CITY — Online social networks, a newcomer in Mexican elections, are making a mark on the country’s presidential campaign, forcing candidates to respond to issues and protests enabled by the Internet.

Enrique Pena Nieto, the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, has a seemingly insurmountable 15-point lead over his nearest rival in the presidential race.

With little public debate among the candidates and rigid controls imposed by election authorities, social networks have take on a crucial role in engaging the public, and the candidates have taken note.

“There is a parallel campaign on the network,” said Ray Campos, head of the Mitofsky polling company.

“Its influence is such that they are now setting the agendas of the campaign.”

Mr. Pena Nieto, in particular, has faced flash demonstrations organized over the Internet.

A week ago, 50,000 students marched through Mexico City against Mr. Pena Nieto after PRI leaders criticized students at a private university for harshly questioning the candidate and suggested they were not really students.

CUBA

Iranian vice president makes follow-up trip

HAVANA — Iranian Vice President Ali Saeedlu began an official visit to Cuba on Monday, following up on a trip to the communist-ruled island earlier this year by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Mr. Saeedlu, the deputy for international affairs, will hold “official talks” with his counterpart Jose Ramon Machado, the Iranian Embassy said, without specifying his length of stay or topics for discussion.

The visit comes five months after Mr. Ahmadinejad’s trip to Havana to meet with President Raul Castro and his brother, former leader Fidel Castro, who stepped down from the leadership with health issues in 2006.

On that trip, the two leaders signed statements affirming the “right of all nations to the peaceful use of nuclear energy.”

The United States and its allies have accused Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons in the guise of a peaceful enrichment program. Tehran denies the charge.

CANADA

Thousands march against limit on protest rights

MONTREAL — About 10,000 protesters on foot, bicycle, skateboard or Rollerblades, crossed Montreal over the weekend to the deafening din of pots, fog horns and whistles.

Some carried Quebec provincial flags. Others waved red flags and placards denouncing a special law passed a week ago to limit the right to protest.

The law sought to clamp down on the student protests by requiring organizers to give police at least eight hours advance warning of times and locations of demonstrations, with big fines for failure to do so.

Authorities have used the emergency law to declare protests illegal, clearing the way for police to disperse protesters.

Similar events were held in Quebec City, Trois-Rivieres and in several other cities in the French-speaking province.

HAITI

Credits via mobile phones give cash for children in school

PORT-AU-PRINCE — The Haitian government has launched a program that uses mobile phones to transfer cash credits to mothers who keep their children in school.

The program is called “Ti Manman Cheri,” or Creole for “Dear Little Mother.” It aims to reach 100,000 families in four of the capital’s poorest neighborhoods.

Mothers with children enrolled in first through sixth grades can receive up to $20 a month if they keep the youngsters in school.

Venezuela’s Petrocaribe fund is providing the $15 million for the program. The fund supplies fuel to Caribbean and Central American countries.

Similar conditional cash transfer programs have been employed in Brazil, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe announced the program Sunday at a school in the sprawling Cite Soleil slum.

COLOMBIA

Rebels announce plans to release French journalist

BOGOTA — The Venezuelan TV network Telesur broadcast Monday the first video images of a French journalist captured a month ago by Colombian rebels, who say they plan to release him Wednesday.

The video, taken by the rebels, shows Romeo Langlois, 35, having his left forearm sutured for a bullet wound as he answers questions from a female guerrilla hours after he surrendered April 28.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) said in a communique posted online over the weekend that it would provide the handover coordinates shortly to the International Red Cross, a delegate of the French government and former Colombian Sen. Piedad Cordoba.

Mr. Langlois fell into rebel hands while accompanying troops on a cocaine lab-destruction mission in the jungles of southern Colombia. Rebels killed four soldiers and Mr. Langlois was wounded.

Mr. Langlois was on assignment for France24 television. He has been reporting from Colombia for more than a decade and also has contributed to the French daily Le Figaro.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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