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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Claiming fraud, Mexico left names own 'president'

MEXICO CITY, Sept 16 (Reuters) - Mexican leftists, who say the July 2 election was stolen, declared their candidate their "legitimate president" on Saturday, a symbolic move reducing the risk of street protests to make the country ungovernable.

Aides said Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who narrowly lost the election, would use mainly political means rather than widespread protests in leading opposition to conservative President-elect Felipe Calderon.

Tens of thousands of leftists meeting in the capital's vast downtown central square rejected a proposal to name Lopez Obrador head of a civil resistance campaign that would have marked a more aggressive strategy to try to stop Calderon from ruling.

The election sharply divided Mexico along class lines, a rift made worse by Lopez Obrador's fraud accusations.

There will still be protests but fears of major unrest or violence have eased in recent days as Lopez Obrador has apparently opted for an organized political movement to challenge Calderon rather than cause chaos on the streets.

Supporters voted to swear Lopez Obrador in at a ceremony on Nov. 20, just days before Calderon takes power. Lopez Obrador said he would name ministers to his parallel government and that it would operate from voluntary donations.

"We won the presidential election. I accept the post of president of Mexico because we reject an imposition," he told cheering followers who gathered under torrential rains. "We will never give up."

"You are not alone," they shouted.


Mexico's top election court rejected Lopez Obrador's fraud claims and named Calderon president-elect by a tiny margin of 234,000 votes out of 41 million cast.

Lopez Obrador launched a civil resistance campaign in August and his supporters blockaded central Mexico City, foreign banks and government ministries.

The campaign caused traffic chaos in the capital but did little to help him win support.

An almost seven-week blockade of the Zocalo and Mexico's central business district ended on Friday.

There will, however, be sporadic protests in coming weeks, including major demonstrations when the pro-business Calderon is sworn in on Dec. 1.

"This will continue until Andres Manuel is sitting in the presidential chair," said Sergio Arredondo, a 32-year-old agricultural day laborer from the western state of Sinaloa.

Delegates at the convention led by Lopez Obrador also voted to support a boycott against some of Mexico's biggest companies, which they believe backed Calderon's campaign.

They included the Mexican units of major U.S. firms such as retailer Wal-Mart and financial giant Citigroup .

Earlier on Saturday, leftists protested against President Vicente Fox at the nation's independence day military parade.

They waved posters that read: "Fox, traitor to democracy," in the Zocalo square as the outgoing president reviewed columns of troops and military hardware.

But the campaign has clearly lost momentum and few now doubt Calderon will rule the country, although he could face constant sniping from Lopez Obrador and a large bloc of leftist lawmakers in Congress.

More and more Mexicans want Lopez Obrador, a former mayor of the capital, to end the protests.

"We've had too much already. He lost and he has to accept it," said Rebecca Ocampo who took her three children to see the military parade on Saturday. Most in the crowd cheered and applauded as troops marched through the streets.
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