MEXICO CITY – Officials met privately Wednesday to begin a partial recount of votes from July's disputed presidential election as supporters of the main leftist candidate spread their civil disobedience campaign to the headquarters of at least two banks.
Party representatives and judges arrived at electoral offices across Mexico to open ballot boxes from 9 percent of the 130,000 polling places where the top electoral court found evidence of irregularities. Armed soldiers kept watched from rooftops and doorways.
As the re-count started, dozens of supporters of leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador demonstrated outside the central offices of the Mexican-owned Bancomer and the British bank HSBC. Bank executives could not be immediately reached for comment.
On Tuesday, hundreds of Lopez Obrador loyalists blocked the entrance to the Agriculture Department and forced open highway toll booths during rush hour. Officials of the Democratic Revolution Party vowed to take the demonstrations nationwide to press their demands for a full recount.
Supporters of Lopez Obrador — a former Mexico City mayor who finished second in the initial vote count — have been staging protests across the capital for more than a week. Their biggest effort so far has been blocking main avenues, snarling business and traffic throughout the Western Hemisphere's largest city.
Demonstrators are demanding the Federal Electoral Tribunal order a recount of all 41 million votes cast in the July 2 election, which gave a 240,000-vote advantage — or 0.6 percent — to Felipe Calderon, the pro-business candidate of the governing National Action Party. They contend the election was stolen from Lopez Obrador.
The partial recount is not expected to change Calderon's slight lead. The Federal Electoral Tribunal has until Sept. 6 to declare a president-elect or annul the election.
On Tuesday, Lopez Obrador said the protests will continue all week, culminating in what he called an "extraordinary rally" in Mexico City on Sunday, the day officials are expected to finish the partial recount.
"We are going to carry on our struggle. ... We are sure we will triumph," the silvery haired candidate told tens of thousands of supporters in the capital's central plaza, where he has been sleeping nightly in a tent with protesters.
President Vicente Fox's spokesman Ruben Aguilar indicated Wednesday the government had no plans to intervene in the demonstrations, saying it would "be especially careful to guarantee the right to freedom of expression."
Aguilar urged the protesters to abide by their pledge to carry out demonstrations respecting the rights of others. Fox is scheduled to leave office Dec. 1.
Lopez Obrador has urged his followers to remain peaceful, but tensions are growing and some fear he may not be able to prevent the demonstrations from erupting in violence.
On Tuesday, hundreds of activists blockaded the Agriculture Department and others briefly took over highway toll booths, giving free passage to 7,000 motorists into Mexico City.
An official in Lopez Obrador's leftist Democratic Revolution Party said the takeover of the toll booths was the start of a new type of protest that would take place across the nation.
"Until now we have concentrated an important part of our protests in the capital, but in this new stage we are going to carry out actions all over the country," party secretary-general Guadalupe Acosta said. "They will be coordinated, national actions with the same objective: that they open the boxes and count the votes."