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Presidential Dispute Splits Mexico City

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By MARK STEVENSON
The Associated Press
Wednesday, July 19, 2006; 8:05 PM

MEXICO CITY -- Politicians and media leaders appealed for calm in Mexico's capital on Wednesday, warning that a bitter split between the left and right following disputed presidential elections could grow more serious.

Scuffles, vandalism and subterfuge has Mexico City near its boiling point, as supporters of leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador angrily push their claims that vote fraud helped conservative Felipe Calderon win the July 2 vote.

Calderon was harassed on Tuesday by a knot of leftists who banged on his car and screamed "pig" at him. In turn, the conservative and his staff on Wednesday touted support from a purported union "leader" who doesn't appear to hold any post.

Calderon's campaign introduced Gaston Saenz as a top adviser of the Electrical Workers Union, and stood by smiling when Saenz called the July 2 elections clean, honest and democratic.

But union chief of staff Enrique Bernal later said Saenz was a retired member of the union, and that he currently held no post nor spoke for the group.

Earlier Wednesday, a pro-Lopez Obrador art display was vandalized at a downtown park, where about three dozen canvases bearing cartoons and drawings were slashed. Local media also reported that cars bearing bumper stickers in favor of both candidates had been vandalized.

"We shouldn't get into a situation of violence," said Enrique Cuevas, the host of a news program for the Formato 21 radio station. "We are falling to a low political level that isn't going to lead us anywhere."

An official tally gave Calderon a 244,000-vote advantage, a margin of less than 0.6 percent of the total vote in the July 2 race. Lopez Obrador has challenged the lead in Mexico's top electoral court, which must rule on appeals by Aug. 31 and declare a president-elect by Sept. 6.

Facing weeks of indecision, Lopez Obrador's followers Tuesday launched what they promised would be a peaceful civil resistance campaign.

Lopez Obrador claims a combination of ballot-stuffing, campaign overspending and support from government and business groups tipped the race to Calderon. He has filed a legal challenge demanding a ballot-by-ballot recount.

Even Mexico City's mayor _ who has drawn criticism for swathing the historic city government building in pro-Lopez Obrador banners _ felt moved to condemn the Tuesday harassment of Calderon.

"The city government clearly condemns this kind of act," said Mayor Alejandro Encinas. "This is not the way to solve these controversies."


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