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Opposition Prevents Mexican President from Giving Address to Congress

  • Susana Seijas

In Mexico, leftist legislators from the Revolutionary Democratic Party have prevented President Vincente Fox from delivering his last state-of the nation address to Congress before he leaves office December 1. Supporters of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who claims that he was fraudulently denied a victory in the July presidential election, vowed to prevent President Fox from delivering his state-of-the nation address to Congress, and they succeeded in doing so.

Steel barricades and riot police surrounded Mexico City's Congressional compound ahead of President Fox's state of the nation address. Fearing unrest, the Fox government had deployed thousands of security forces to defend the grounds of the Congress from the possible onslaught of protesters from the Revolutionary Democratic Party, the PRD.

But the real confrontation came not from the protesters outside but from newly elected PRD legislators within the Chamber of Deputies. Minutes before President Fox was to address the nation, dozens of PRD lawmakers stormed the stage to protest the alleged fraud in the July 2 presidential election.

The opposition lawmakers took over the stage in Congress, waving Mexican flags and holding placards calling Fox a traitor to democracy.

A ruling party official, Jorge Zermeño, tried unsuccessfully to get the PRD lawmakers to go back to their seats.

Fox arrived at the Congress in a motorcade, wearing the traditional presidential sash. On arrival, he had a brief talk with Carlos Abascal, the minister of the interior. At first it looked as if President Fox was going to enter the Chamber to give his speech. He proceeded some steps toward the Chamber before turning back and deciding not to enter.

Fox made a brief statement just outside the door to the main chamber of Congress.

He said he was complying with his constitutional duty by attending Congress and handing over his state of the union speech in his last year as president. He then said that given the attitude of a group of legislators who make the reading of my message impossible, he was leaving this chamber.

"This is an unprecedented moment in Mexican history," said one of the national TV commentators as Fox got back in his car and headed out of the Congress compound

toward Los Pinos, the presidential residence, where he delivered his state-of the nation address on a televised speech to the nation two hours later.

"Whoever attacks our laws and institutions also attacks our history and Mexico," he said, a reference to leftist presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and his supporters.

It has now been more than a month since Lopez Obrador called on those supporters to set up camps in the heart of Mexico City to further their demand for a full recount of 41 million ballots from the July presidential election. The recount was denied him by the Federal Electoral Tribunal. The Tribunal has favored the ruling party candidate, Felipe Calderon, who is ahead by about 240,000 votes in the official count.

Lopez Obrador says he will not recognize the electoral court's decision, and plans to create a parallel government and rule from the streets.

Many in Mexico feared a confrontation between police and protesters, but the evening ended peacefully with a few hundred protesters gathered outside the Congress compound going home, and the riot police guarding it, disbanding. (Signed)

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He canceled the speech late Friday after lawmakers who have charged fraud in the presidential election two months ago took control of the chamber minutes before Mr. Fox was scheduled to deliver the address. Some opposition lawmakers stormed the podium, carrying signs calling Mr. Fox a traitor to democracy.

After waiting outside the chamber for several minutes, the outgoing president handed over a written version of his speech as required by law, and left.

What appeared to be a recorded version of the speech was later broadcast on national television.

Mr. Fox said Mexico needs "harmony, not anarchy." He said whoever attacks the country's "laws and institutions" also "attacks Mexico" and its history.

Mr. Fox became the country's first president not to deliver a state-of-the-nation address to Congress.

Thousands of police officers had guarded the building, which was protected by riot fencing.

The protests come four days after Mexico's top electoral court threw out allegations of widespread fraud in the July 2 presidential election. The ruling hands almost certain victory to conservative Felipe Calderón.

Leftist challenger Andrés Manuel López Obrador has said he does not recognize a government led by Calderón and the ruling National Action Party.

The electoral tribunal's rulings are final and cannot be appealed. The judges still must report whether the entire election was fair and certify the winner, but Monday's rulings suggest those declarations, due by September sixth, are now a formality.

If Calderón is named president-elect, he would become head of state December first.

Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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