Image: Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador
Tomas Bravo  /  Reuters
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, presidential candidate of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), looks at his supporters in central Zocalo Square, in Mexico City on Saturday.
updated 8/6/2006 2:38:11 PM ET 2006-08-06T18:38:11

Tens of thousands of angry supporters of Mexico’s leftist presidential candidate poured into the center of the capital Sunday, chanting that they wanted to seize Mexico City’s airport a day after the top electoral court rejected a full recount of the country’s disputed election .

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has called on his followers to remain calm and maintain street blockades and a tent city in the capital’s center to protest what he calls fraud that that gave the advantage to his conservative opponent in the July 2 presidential race. Frustrated by the court decision, masses of supporters joined the thousands already camped out downtown.

The federal government has reinforced security at the airport in recent days amid rumors that protesters would move their “civil disobedience” protests to the sprawling complex.

Jesusa Rodriguez, a performance artist addressing the crowd before Lopez Obrador’s speech, said supporters wanted to take control of Congress or storm the airport, and she promised that both options would be considered.

The protesters were enraged Saturday when the Federal Electoral Tribunal decided that granting Lopez Obrador’s request for a full recount would violate electoral laws that prohibit ballot-by-ballot reviews unless there is evidence of irregularities or fraud.

‘Legally weak’
Instead, the court’s seven judges voted in favor of a recount of 11,839 polling places—of more than 130,000 nationwide—where they determined problems were evident.

Aides of Lopez Obrador’s rival, ruling party candidate Felipe Calderon, applauded the ruling. Calderon has an advantage of less than 0.6 percent, or about 240,000 votes, according to an official count.

Lopez Obrador supporters’ protest camps have blocked Mexico City’s main Reforma Avenue and Zocalo square, snarling traffic for a week in the cultural and financial heart of the capital.

Braving near-nightly rainstorms and even flooding at the height of Mexico’s monsoon, the protesters have refused to leave despite pleas from President Vicente Fox.

“We are going to continue our peaceful civil resistance movement,” Lopez Obrador said Saturday, adding that the tribunal’s judges were “legally weak.”

He then spent his seventh straight night in a tent in the Zocalo, rising early Sunday and heading to his apartment to shower.  His followers were waiting for his return and a speech that would determine the movement’s future.

Recount to start mid-week
The recount from polls will begin Wednesday and will last no longer than five days. Electoral judges will oversee the process, and the tribunal has until Sept. 6 to declare a president-elect or annul the vote.

Early Sunday, hundreds of Mexicans celebrated a Mass at Mexico City’s Basilica, praying for unity, reconciliation and peace.

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 and again when the tally sheets were added up during the week following the vote.

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 classes and ruling elite.

Since the election, Lopez Obrador has accused Fox of influencing the vote. He has called the Mexican leader a “traitor to democracy” and electoral officials “criminals,” and even accused some of his own party officials of taking bribes to plot against him.

Fox’s historic victory in 2000 ended 71 years of one-party rule.

‘We all want certainty’
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 and again when the tally sheets were added up during the week following the vote.

“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 July 30. Braving nearly nightly rainstorms and even flooding at the height of Mexico’s monsoon, they have refused to leave despite pleas from Fox.

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

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