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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Mexican officials to burn ballots

MEXICO CITY (AP)- Electoral officials said Tuesday that they will burn the ballots from the disputed presidential election despite calls from both candidates to spare them.

Luis Carlos Ugalde, chairman of the Federal Electoral Institute, or IFE, said in a letter to President-elect Felipe Calderon that a 1990 law clearly called for the burning of the ballots from the July 2 election.

"The IFE is obliged to destroy electoral documentation once the electoral process is concluded," Ugalde wrote.

No date was set for the burning.

Leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador had asked that the ballots be saved, claiming fraud and meddling by President
Vicente Fox stole the election.

In his own letter to Ugalde, Calderon wrote that saving the ballots would guarantee "citizen certainty and confidence in Mexican institutions."

Calderon was declared the winner by a margin of less than 0.6 percent last week. Mexican law requires the ballots to be destroyed before Calderon replaces Fox on Dec. 1, but the institute's governing council could have decided to postpone the destruction.

Fox and Calderon are both members of the National Action Party, and Calderon served as the outgoing president's energy secretary — though he quit after nine months in 2004, when Fox chided him for talking publicly about running for president too soon before the election.

Saving the ballots likely wouldn't have helped Lopez Obrador's case. The Federal Electoral Tribunal rejected most of his complaints and his demand for a full vote recount, and awarded the presidency to Calderon. Its decision cannot be appealed.

Despite the court's final decision, Gerardo Fernandez, spokesman for Lopez Obrador's Democratic Revolution Party, said Tuesday that electoral officials should recount the ballots before destroying them to erase doubt about the elections.

"If Calderon comes out on top in a recount then this will all be over," Fernandez said.

Thousands of Lopez Orador supporters have set up a protest camp in the heart of Mexico City. They say they won't recognize Calderon's victory and plan to create their own parallel government this weekend during an assembly led by Lopez Obrador.

Also Tuesday, top Calderon adviser Josefina Vazquez Mota announced that Calderon had named Cesar Nava, National Action's general-secretary, as his personal secretary. Calderon has yet to announce any of his Cabinet members.

Calderon met with university leaders from across Mexico at his transition headquarters in Mexico City later in the day, but did not mention his letter to the IFE's chairman.

"Poverty restricts access to higher education and a lack of access to higher education makes problems of inequality and poverty worse," Calderon said. "We have to break this vicious cycle and provide young people alternative financing and funding based on their economic realities."

Fox's spokesman, Ruben Aguilar, said Calderon's transition team met Monday with members of Fox's administration, and will do so every Monday until Calderon takes office to ensure the handover goes smoothly.

U.N. Secretary-General
Kofi Annan called Monday night to congratulate Calderon.
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