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Mexican Court Orders Partial Recount

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The Associated Press
Saturday, August 5, 2006; 8:13 PM

MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's top electoral court on Saturday rejected a full recount in the disputed presidential election, ordering a partial count instead, angering leftist protesters camped in the capital demanding a new vote-by-vote tally over their fraud allegations.

Dozens of supporters of candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador pushed against the gate of the Federal Electoral Tribunal as its session ended, chanting: "If there is no solution, there will be a revolution!" One forced his way through, waving a Mexican flag and yelling "Bandits!"

In Mexico City's central plaza, where thousands of protesters have been camped out for a week demanding a new count of the July 2 election, chants of "vote-by-vote" drowned out the judges' statements as the session was broadcast live on a large TV screen.

"This is very bad. It's a total fraud," said Edelbira Cervantes, a 46-year-old government employee. "The people will solve this problem in their own way."

The silver-haired Lopez Obrador, who is known for giving passionate, confrontational speeches, planned to speak in the Zocalo on Saturday evening, his aides said.

Before the judges met, a spokesman for his Democratic Revolution Party, Gerardo Fernandez, warned against a partial recount, arguing that a full tally was the only way to end allegations of fraud and doubts about the country's electoral system.

But the electoral court voted unanimously to order a partial recount of nearly 12,000 polling places _ about 9 percent of the more than 130,000 nationwide _ and called for electoral judges to oversee the process. Lopez Obrador's representatives walked out of the session in protest.

The recount will begin Wednesday and was expected to last five days. The number of votes cast varied from one polling station to the next so it was not clear what percentage of the total of more than 41 million votes would be recounted.

German Martinez, a legal aide to ruling party candidate Felipe Calderon, applauded the ruling, saying the judges "made the correct decision." An official count gave Calderon an advantage of less than 0.6 percent, or about 240,000 votes.

The court has until Sept. 6 to declare a president-elect or annul the elections.

Lopez Obrador said fraud and dirty campaign practices resulted in his rival's slim margin, arguing that a full recount would show that he won and threatening intensified protests if officials order anything less.

Some of the leftist's supporters have said they may block access to Mexico City's international airport. More federal police have been assigned to guard the facility.

"People are willing to give their lives for this situation," said 46-year-old teacher Miguel Angel Morales, who was protesting in the main square, or Zocalo.

Since the election, Lopez Obrador has called President Vicente Fox a "traitor to democracy" and electoral officials "criminals," and even accused some of his own party officials of taking bribes to plot against him.

In the tribunal's session on Saturday, chief justice Leonel Castillo argued that Mexico's political parties had a chance to raise concerns when the results were first counted at polling places on election day or when the tally sheets were added up during the following week. During the official tally, which has yet to be certified by the court, authorities can recount votes only if there is evidence of irregularities or fraud.

Castillo cautioned against straying from electoral laws, saying recounts should be conducted "exclusively and only" when there are obvious problems.

"We all want certainty ... and that's what we have with these results," Castillo said.

Lopez Obrador's supporters seized control of Mexico City's cultural and financial heart on Sunday, setting up protest camps on the elegant Reforma Avenue and in the Zocalo and snarling traffic. Braving nearly nightly rainstorms and flooding, they have refused to leave despite pleas from Fox.

However, Cesar Nava, the general-secretary of Fox and Calderon's National Action Party, said the situation was under control.

"We believe that the country is calm and there is no reason why a small amount of discontent should spread," Nava told reporters.

The election has divided the nation along class and social lines.

Lopez Obrador has promised to govern for the poor, while Calderon has the backing of the nation's growing middle and elite classes, many of whom want to protect the new homes and cars they have been able to purchase with falling interest rates.


Associated Press Writer Mark Stevenson contributed to this report.

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