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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Mexican electoral court finds no fraud

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's top electoral court threw out allegations of massive fraud in last month's presidential election on Monday, handing almost certain victory to conservative candidate Felipe Calderon.

The seven judges voted unanimously to reject almost all the legal complaints by left-wing candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who said he was robbed of victory in the July 2 vote.

The leftist, who has vowed to make Mexico ungovernable if Calderon becomes president, refused to accept the ruling.

The court stopped short of formally naming Calderon the winner, but reported only marginal changes after examining the results of a partial recount and throwing out more than 230,000 ballots because of voting irregularities.

Calderon vowed not to let protests rattle his victory.

"I won't let something that's been decided by all the citizens be undermined by a few in a violent way," he said.

The initial result showed Calderon, a former energy minister from the ruling National Action Party, won the election by 244,000 votes, or just 0.58 of a percentage point.

Lopez Obrador says there were serious irregularities at more than half the polling stations. He has repeatedly demanded a recount of all 41 million votes cast and said Monday's ruling was "offensive and unacceptable for millions of Mexicans."

"It represents not only a disgrace in the history of our country but also a violation of the constitutional order and a true coup d'etat," he told some 2,000 followers in the main Zocalo square.

Judges scrapped the results from hundreds of polling stations where major irregularities were confirmed, but it made little difference, cutting out 81,080 votes for Calderon and 76,897 for Lopez Obrador.

Court president Leonel Castillo said Lopez Obrador's claims of huge fraud were "completely unfounded."

The judges, whose rulings are final and cannot be appealed, must still rule on whether the entire election was fair and formally declare a president-elect by September 6, but that is widely seen as a formality.


Mexico's peso gained 0.83 percent and the stock market rose 1.1 percent as investors were convinced that pro-business Calderon will take over from President Vicente Fox on December 1.

The election split Mexico between left and right, rich and poor. The crisis over alleged fraud is the most serious challenge to its democracy since Fox's election victory in 2000 ended seven decades of one-party rule.

Calderon would be a regional U.S. ally and could counterbalance the influence of leftist foes like Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

He pledged on Monday to mend the class rift in Mexico by helping low-income groups like sugar cane workers, peasant farmers, artisans and indigenous people.

"I don't want several Mexicos. I don't want an impoverished Mexico. I want one single, strongly developed Mexico with solid economic growth," he told lawmakers.

If Calderon's victory is confirmed by the court, Lopez Obrador says, he will lead a civil resistance movement against his rival or set up some kind of parallel government.

A small group of leftist protesters demonstrated outside the court, holding photos of Calderon labeled "traitor."

"The damned judges are corrupt. They are stealing the election from us," said housewife Josefina Mondragon, 55.

One judge, Fernando Ojesto, said the court would rule on the election's validity in the coming days and give a final vote count.

"We can tell people that today their votes were worth something and that they are definitive," he said.
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