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Fox: Vote Resolution Will Be Peaceful

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By TRACI CARL
The Associated Press
Thursday, August 10, 2006; 6:03 PM

MEXICO CITY -- President Vicente Fox said Thursday he is confident the country's disputed presidential election will be resolved peacefully and Mexico's young democracy will emerge stronger after its greatest test yet.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Fox said he does not believe protests will turn violent after the Federal Electoral Tribunal declares a president-elect. This despite angry supporters of leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador who have set up permanent protest camps in the city's center and vow to ignore the court's ruling.

He said he believes most Mexicans have confidence in the system created to overcome decades of electoral fraud during previous governments.

Mexico's electoral authorities "will win in the end," Fox predicted. "I don't see any problems along the way."

Fox, who turned 64 on the July 2 election day, said he expects to hand over the presidential sash to a new leader when he leaves office Dec. 1, and "the country will continue to move forward."

Millions of Lopez Obrador's supporters have vowed to reject the tribunal's decision unless it reverses itself and orders a full recount, rather than the review of 9 percent of the 130,000 polling places that began on Wednesday.

Scores of Lopez Obrador supporters briefly blockaded the Treasury Department and the Attorney General's office on Thursday, while about 300 others marched toward Mexico City's international airport before police persuaded them to turn away. Others briefly blocked finance and prosecutors' offices in cities across the nation, including Acapulco, as the civil resistance campaign expanded beyond the capital.

The initial count, which will not be certified by the tribunal until after the partial recount is completed, showed Lopez Obrador trailing Felipe Calderon of Fox's National Action Party by less than 1 percent, or about 240,000 votes. Lopez Obrador, the former Mexico City mayor, has alleged fraud was widespread and is demanding a recount of all 41 million votes.

Authorities have until Sunday to finish the partial recount. On Thursday, National Action Party General-Secretary Cesar Nava said officials were about 40 percent done, and had found no major problems. He expected them to finish late Friday or early Saturday.

Lopez Obrador vowed to govern for the poor, while Calderon had the backing of the country's growing middle class and ruling elite. But Fox dismissed the idea that the election had exposed painful class divisions in Mexico.

He said close elections and a divided Congress were the result of Mexico's numerous political parties.

"It's no different than other democracies," he said.

Fox added that Mexico's democracy needed to "mature" so that elections were clear cut and congress could move beyond political bickering and pass meaningful legislation.

Wearing a black leather jacket and joking about the pains of growing old, Fox was interviewed in his wood-paneled library at the presidential residence, Los Pinos. Before the interview, Fox's office arranged for him to have a firm chair for his aching back.

He said the country was put on alert since learning of the purported terror plot to blow up planes heading to the United States. Fox said Mexico had been in touch with Washington and had beefed up security at airports, ports and along the 2,000-mile U.S. border. British authorities said Thursday they thwarted the plot to simultaneously blow up 10 aircraft heading to the U.S. using explosives smuggled in hand luggage.

"We take it seriously even though it could be remote," he said, referring to chances of a terror attack originating in Mexico.

Fox, who is limited by the constitution to one six-year term, acknowledged having some regrets about what he's been able to accomplish in office.

Talking about Mexico's escalating drug violence, which has resulted in a human head washing up on a beach in the Pacific coast resort of Acapulco, Fox said he was not satisfied with the job he had done to fight growing insecurity.

"We still have a ways to go" despite his administration's numerous arrests of drug leaders, Fox acknowledged.

He blamed the violence on drug cartels battling each other for power after the power vacuum created by the arrests, and said he's disappointed that Congress has refused to reform Mexico's corrupt and inefficient justice system.

And he pledged to not only bring drug lords to justice in Mexico, but begin extraditing them to the United States to face trial, although he declined to give details.

Fox said the new president will have to work with the United States to achieve an immigration accord that will allow the "orderly, legal" flow of people across the border. He also said Mexico must narrow the gap between U.S. and Mexican wages, so that fewer people head north.

He said Mexico was keeping a close watch on developments with Cuba, where President Fidel Castro was recuperating from intestinal surgery.

"I hope that they are on a democratic path that respects human rights," he said


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© 2006 The Associated Press

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