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Supporters of Mexican Leftist Candidate Take Over City Toll Booths

Supporters of leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took over toll booths surrounding Mexico City for several hours Tuesday, giving motorists free passage into the metropolis.

The takover came a day after the former Mexico City mayor said his protests over alleged fraud in July 2 presidential elections, which have already clogged the city's center, will transform into a long-term radical movement to change the nation.

Lopez Obrador, who claims electoral officials tried to rig the vote, told a crowd of about 5,000 supporters on Monday that his movement is just beginning.

"We are going to start a movement for the transformation of the nation's institutions," Lopez Obrador said. "We are going to transform our country and this is going to happen one way or the other."

CountryWatch: Mexico

Lopez Obrador has led a wave of protests to demand a vote-by-vote recount of the presidential election. An official count gave ruling party candidate Felipe Calderon an advantage of 0.6 percent, or about 240,000 votes, over Lopez Obrador.

The nation's Federal Electoral Tribunal ruled over the weekend that it would only recount ballots at about 9 percent of the nation's 130,000 polling places, where it said there was evidence that the vote may have been miscounted.

On Tuesday, hundreds of supporters carrying banners and Democratic Revolution Party flags waved vehicles through tolls booths surrounding Mexico City, but most retreated by late morning. Party spokesman Gerardo Fernandez Norona told the government news agency Notimex the action was part of the ongoing civil resistance to pressure electoral officials to allow a recount of all 41 million votes cast. But he said they had no plans to block highways and cutoff the nation's capital.

On Monday, Lopez Obrador headed a demonstration outside the Federal Electoral Tribunal and warned there would be consequences if the court didn't order a full recount.

"What is going to happen if they ratify this imposition?" he said to his followers.

"Revolution!" his supporters replied with their fists in the air.

The court's seven judges are unlikely to be swayed. They voted unanimously for a partial recount that will begin Wednesday and last no longer than five days. They have until Sept. 6 to declare a president-elect or annul the race.

Representatives of Lopez Obrador's party and Calderon's National Action Party will observe the partial recount, examining the markings on each ballot and challenging votes where they can.

The process could potentially swing the count in Lopez Obrador's favor. However, overcoming a 244,000-vote lead by re-examining just 9 percent of the ballots will be difficult.

Meanwhile, parties supporting Lopez Obrador have called on protesters to demonstrate at President Vicente Fox's public events.

On Monday, two Lopez Obrador supporters heckled Fox, waving a banner that declared him a "traitor" as he spoke before a group of Indians in Puebla state.

Lopez Obrador has accused Fox, whose historic victory in 2000 ended 71 years of one-party rule, of using the presidency to ensure his party won the election and called him a "traitor to democracy."

"Liberty of expression should be used responsibly," Fox replied to the hecklers. "Calling somebody a traitor is very serious. Nobody in this country should call somebody a traitor."

Supporters of Lopez Obrador have held a weeklong blockade of the capital's financial and cultural heart that is costing the city an estimated $23 million a day in lost commerce and causing traffic jams throughout the city.

Although Lopez Obrador has urged the protesters to remain peaceful, many say they are ready for confrontation.

"We will carry on as far as possible until the people's will is fulfilled," protester Francisco Estrada said.

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