Mexican presidential address stopped by protests

Saturday, September 2, 2006

Protests over allegations of fraud in Mexico's razor-thin election forced outgoing President Vicente Fox to abandon his state of the union address, Friday, after a protest by left-wing legislators who stormed the podium from which he was to speak carrying placards and shouting demands for a full recount of the presidential vote. Unable to address Congress, Fox withdrew to a television studio in his official residence to broadcast his speech which called on the country to mend its divisions.

It is the first time in modern history that a Mexican president has had to cancel his annual speech to the country's Congress.

Fox did not enter the legislative chamber. Instead, after waiting for several minutes in a back room, he handed over a written copy of his speech, as required by the constitution, before withdrawing to his residence. In his television speech Fox criticised opposition politicians saying "all voices should be heard... [but] respect for the law is not discretionary."

Thousands of protesters have occupied the centre of Mexico City throughout the summer to demand a full recount of the July 2nd presidential election in which conservative Felipe Calderón of the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) defeated leftist Andres Manuel López Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City running under the w:Alliance for Wellbeing of all coalition banner, by a margin of less than 0.6%. An electoral tribunal ordered a limited recount of 9% of all polling booths. Following the limited recount, the electoral court ruled that a further recount was unnecessary as the limited re-examination showed no significant change.

López Obrador has rejected the court's rulings and vowed to lead a parallel government from the streets.

The Congress building was surrounded by 10 blocks of steel barriers, caged attack dogs, water cannon and riot police in order to prevent demonstrators from storming Congress.

Cuauhtemoc Sandoval, a legislator for the left wing Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD), part of López Obrador's coalition, said ""It's completely militarized around here. It is completely illegal, unconstitutional, Vicente Fox started out as a president and is finishing up as a dictator."

López Obrador called on supporters to remain in the city's Zocalo plaza rather than march on Congress, "We aren't going to fall into any trap. We aren't going to be provoked," he told tens of thousands of supporters.

The electoral court has until September 6 to either declare a winner or annul the election.


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