New Congress in Troubled Mexican State Sworn In

OAXACA, Mexico -- Citizens who formerly led street protests and manned barricades in the troubled southern state of Oaxaca were sworn in as members of the local congress Saturday, in what the governor-elect called a historic change.

Flavio Sosa, the leader of leftist protesters who battled police and shut down this popular colonial tourist city for several months in 2006, is now a state congressman. Sosa spent almost 1 1/2 years in jail before charges related to the protests were dismissed.

The protesters accused outgoing Gov. Ulises Ruiz of brutality, electoral fraud and ordering the killing of demonstrators. Federal police broke up the protest in October 2006, after the city's center had been controlled by Ruiz's opponents for several months.

Ruiz, perhaps the most controversial governor in the state's history, leaves office Dec. 1, when Gov.-elect Gabino Cue is to take over.

"We Oaxacans should be happy, because this opens up new possibilities for the democratic transition we are building," Cue said of the new congress in a statement.

Ruiz narrowly defeated Cue in 2004 elections that many claimed were marred by fraud. Cue won this time around, in July, with the backing of a coalition of leftist and conservative parties.

While some criticized such coalitions -- which won three governorships this year -- as an ideological stew, they allowed locally popular figures to unseat the long-standing rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which held Mexico's presidency and most state governments without interruption for 71 years until it lost the presidency in 2000.

In a farewell television ad aired Saturday, Ruiz did not mention the new congress, which could play a role in investigating the allegations against him.

"Despite the fact some groups wanted to denigrate us, they couldn't, because Oaxaca is greater and more noble then her detractors," Ruiz said in the spot.

The new leader of the state congress is Eufrosina Cruz, who led protests after being barred from seeking the mayorship of her small Oaxacan town in 2007 because she is a woman.

Traditional Indian governance rules -- which have legal standing at the municipal level in many towns in Oaxaca -- ban women from running and in some cases voting in local races, even though Mexico's federal Constitution prohibits such discrimination.

"This is for Oaxaca, this is for our people, this is for the people we love," Cruz said triumphantly as she was sworn in.

But the new legislature that took office Saturday also reflects the stubborn crime and violence that afflict much of Mexico: A substitute was sworn in for congressman-elect Manuel Benitez Manzanares, who was kidnapped Oct. 5 and has not been heard from since.