Published August 14, 2006
MEXICO CITY – Dozens of protesters demanding a full recount of last month's tight presidential vote clashed briefly with police outside Mexico's Congress on Monday, as the nation's top electoral court met to resolve election disputes.
Supporters of leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador also picketed the Federal Electoral Tribunal, blocked the entrances to branches of a U.S.-owned bank for several hours and maintained round-the-clock tent camps that occupy large swaths of central Mexico City.
Their actions came a day after Lopez Obrador told them to prepare for months or even years of demonstrations, amid signs that a partial recount of the presidential race was not going to reverse the slim lead of his conservative rival, Felipe Calderon.
Shouting "Vote by vote! Polling place by polling place!" demonstrators arrived on Monday outside Mexico's Congress, where hundreds of federal police and presidential guards formed barricades to block them from setting up camps at the entrance.
The protesters briefly broke through one of the barriers and engaged in shoving matches with police before authorities pushed them back. No injuries were reported, but police readied tear gas canisters in anticipation of possible violence.
The crowd echoed Lopez Obrador's contention that fraud was responsible for the official vote count that gave Calderon, of President Vicente Fox's National Action Party, an advantage of about 240,000 ballots in the July 2 race.
Lopez Obrador has continued to demand a recount of all 41 million votes, which he says would swing the election his way. Instead, the Federal Electoral Tribunal ordered a recount in the 9 percent of the country's 130,000 polling places where it said there was evidence of irregularities.
That recount has been completed, and the court has until Aug. 31 to reveal the findings and to resolve all other electoral disputes. By Sept. 6 it must either declare a president-elect or annul the election.
The seven-judge tribunal met publicly Monday but was not scheduled to address the partial recount, officials said. Instead the court was to resolve disputed congressional elections, which were held the same day as the presidential vote, and to review a petition from a group of voters who do not want their ballots in the presidential election annulled.
About two dozen protesters gathered outside the court to press for a vote-by-vote review. Cesar Bernal, a 40-year-old unemployed lawyer from Mexico City, said he was prepared to fight "for years."
"I don't trust the court," Bernal said. "It is engaging in the same tricks that have always been used in Mexico."
On Sunday, Lopez Obrador told tens of thousands of followers at a protest camp in Mexico City's main square to dig in for a long-term struggle.
"Shall we fight to the last?" he asked. "Shall we stay here as long as it takes?" The crowd screamed "Yes!"
He called for more large-scale protests on Sept. 1, when President Vicente Fox delivers his last state-of-the-nation address to the Congress, and on Sept. 6, and announced plans to hold a "national democratic convention" on Sept. 16, Mexico's independence day, to "reform" the government.
At a news conference Monday, Calderon called on Lopez Obrador "to reconsider his attitude," and expressed confidence that he would ultimately be confirmed as the nation's next president.
Earlier in the day, Lopez Obrador supporters blocked the headquarters and at least two branches of Banamex, Mexico's second-largest bank, owned by New York-based Citigroup Inc. Bank officials did not immediately comment on the protests Monday, but during similar demonstrations last month issued a statement saying they could take legal action against those responsible for the blockades.
In the past two weeks, Lopez Obrador's supporters have briefly taken over tollbooths outside the capital and blocked other foreign-owned banks and government offices both in and outside of Mexico City. The extended actions, which showed no immediate sign of ending, have paralyzed the center of the capital and outlying areas, a metropolis of more than 20 million.
Fox spokesman Ruben Aguilar on Monday praised those who have refrained from taking to the streets and called on all Mexicans to act with "maturity and responsibility to create an atmosphere in which to resolve these problems."