- The Washington Times - Friday, December 1, 2006

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Felipe Calderon took the oath of office as Mexico’s president today amid jeers and whistles in a chaotic ceremony before Congress that was preceded by a brawl among lawmakers still divided over the nation’s tight presidential election.

Physically protected by ruling party lawmakers and flanked by outgoing President Vicente Fox, Mr. Calderon quickly swore to uphold the constitution. The national anthem was then played, momentarily stilling the catcalls and shouting. Mr. Calderon swiftly left the chamber as Congress adjourned.

“He did it. He did it,” chanted ruling party lawmakers.

Earlier, the conservative Mr. Calderon took control of the presidential residence in an unusual midnight ceremony with Mr. Fox, swearing in part of his Cabinet. In that private ceremony, broadcast live from Los Pinos, Mr. Fox handed the presidential sash to a military cadet as his term ended at midnight.

That left analysts on Mexico’s constitution, which requires presidents to be sworn in “before Congress,” puzzled over whether Mexico had a president or not earlier this morning.

In the midnight broadcast, Mr. Calderon called on Mexicans to leave behind the divisions that have dogged him and the country since the disputed July 2 elections.

“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.”

The leftist Democratic Revolution Party — whose candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, narrowly lost the presidency to Mr. Calderon — massed thousands of supporters nearby in the capital’s main Zocalo plaza and pledged to march peacefully to the National Auditorium, where Mr. Calderon is scheduled to address the nation.

Mr. Lopez Obrador, refusing to recognize Mr. Calderon’s victory, has set up a parallel government of sorts and declared himself “legitimate president” of Mexico.

Earlier this morning, leftist lawmakers threw punches and chairs at their conservative colleagues, and some tried to block the doors of the congressional chamber just an hour before Mr. Calderon was to take the oath of office there.

Ruling party lawmakers, chanting “Mexico wants peace,” seized the speaker’s platform where Mr. Calderon was supposed to appear, while leftist opponents blocked most of the chamber’s doors.

The brawl was shown on live television across Mexico.

Carlos Navarette, Senate leader for the leftist Democratic Revolution, or PRD, said his party would do everything it could to keep Mr. Calderon out.

“We’ll see if he can get in,” Mr. Navarette said, adding: “If he does take office, it will be at his own risk.”

Mexican law prevents security officials from searching lawmakers, and no police were allowed in the congressional chamber.

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