- The Washington Times - Monday, July 17, 2006

MEXICO CITY — Claiming fraud robbed him of the presidency, leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador led hundreds of thousands of marchers through Mexico’s capital yesterday, demanding a full recount in the disputed election apparently won by his conservative opponent.

The Roman Catholic Church canceled Mass at the downtown cathedral as protesters overwhelmed the massive central plaza and spilled for blocks down nearby streets. Bands played, firecrackers boomed and the leftist party’s yellow banners waved in the breeze.

Police officials from the pro-Lopez Obrador city government said many as 900,000 people took part. On the ground, the crowd appeared to be much smaller — although still vast.

Mr. Lopez Obrador, a former Mexico City mayor, is demanding a full recount of the July 2 election — vote by vote, rather than relying on polling-place reports from election night, as is usual.

“To defend democracy, we are going to be begin peaceful civil resistance,” a stern-faced Mr. Lopez Obrador told cheering supporters.

In official returns, Felipe Calderon of President Vicente Fox’s conservative National Action Party led by about 244,000 votes — just 0.6 percentage point — though by law, he cannot be declared president-elect until an electoral court deals with challenges to the election.

Mr. Lopez Obrador’s Democratic Revolution Party has appealed to overturn the official count, charging illicit government and corporate help for Mr. Calderon, ballot stuffing and other irregularities.

National Action has also filed its own challenges, seeking to stretch Mr. Calderon’s tiny vote advantage. Mr. Calderon say there is no legal basis for a complete recount. He is building a transition team and planning a nationwide victory tour.

A carnival atmosphere prevailed yesterday, with grandmothers dancing to the beat of hand-held drums, teenagers tossing firecrackers and a naked bicyclist with anti-fraud messages painted on his body weaving through the crowd.

Chants of “Hold on, Lopez Obrador, the people are rising up,” echoed from the crowd. Dogs wore yellow and black scarves representing the leftist party.

Mr. Lopez Obrador supporters compared the vote to the fraud-stained 1988 election lost by leftist candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas and said they were ready for a long struggle.

“We could be here six more years,” said Xochitl Luna, a 43-year-old unemployed secretary, referring to Mexico’s presidential term.

“In 1988, we were ready to take up sticks and stones,” she said. “Today, we are prepared to fight with ideas.”

Despite calls for peaceful demonstrations, Lopez Obrador adviser Manuel Camacho said the country might be ungovernable if the Federal Electoral Tribunal — which has until Aug. 31 to review claims of fraud — doesn’t order a total recount.

Mr. Lopez Obrador has promised to keep convening massive marches until a vote-by-vote tally is conducted.

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