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Mexico's scorned election challenger soldiers on

Mexican presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador promised Sunday to maintain protest camps that have paralyzed Mexico City until at least September, unless the nation's top electoral court orders a total recount in the election.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Mexico's leftist presidential candidate promised on Sunday to maintain protest camps that have paralyzed downtown Mexico City until at least September, unless the nation's top electoral court orders a total recount in the still-disputed election.

Settling in for a long battle, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told supporters who launched the protest camps two weeks ago that "we could be here for years" if the tribunal does not grant his demand for a full recount. He also promised to spark a national leftist movement at a Sept. 16 convention.

The camps have brought Mexico City's cultural and financial center to a near standstill, forcing workers to hike to their jobs and causing traffic jams across the city. The protesters are angry at an official but still uncertified vote count that gave the conservative ruling party candidate Felipe Calderon a slim lead in the July 2 election.

The Federal Electoral Tribunal ordered a partial recount of 9 percent of the polling places, which was to end Sunday. The court's seven magistrates will review the results and release them later this month. The court scheduled a public session for Monday, but it is expected to use the session to hear appeals in congressional races, rather than the presidential race.

Lopez Obrador is demanding a full recount and has said he will not accept anything less.

"There's one decision that we've made from the start," he said "We will not allow the imposition of an illegitimate government."

He called for large-scale protests on Sept. 1, when President Vicente Fox gives his last state-of-the-nation address, and on Sept. 6, the deadline for the country's top electoral court to name a president-elect.

Call for ‘democratic convention’
He also said he wanted to hold a "national democratic convention" in Mexico City on Sept. 16, the nation's independence day, to "reform" the country's electoral institutions.

The convention apparently would be aimed at forming a long-term anti-government movement outside of electoral politics, something Lopez Obrador termed "a new stage" and a "watershed in Mexican history."

Lopez Obrador and his top aides have said that the results should be annulled from 7,442 polling places, or 5.7 percent of the 130,000 polling stations _ mostly in places where Calderon won _ because of alleged voter fraud. They say that would tip the election in Lopez Obrador's favor.

Local media reported that variations of only a few thousand votes have been found, far short of what Lopez Obrador would need to overcome a 244,000-vote deficit. Horacio Duarte, who heads Lopez Obrador's legal team, said his figures showed Calderon had lost at least 13,679 votes in the partial recount.

Discrepancies in ballots, boxes?
But representatives of Lopez Obrador's Democratic Revolution Party observing the recount say electoral officials have found extra ballots in some ballot boxes, and in other cases have failed to account for all the ballots distributed to polling places.

Lopez Obrador says that proves fraud led to Calderon's advantage of less than 0.6 percent and should trigger a full recount.

Some experts have suggested that missing ballots might be due to people who kept voting sheets, rather than using them to vote, and that "extra" ballots might have been transferred from nearby polling places.

Representatives of Calderon's conservative National Action Party have insisted that no major problems or variations in the vote have surfaced during the partial recount. Calderon's supporters have launched counter-protests, asking Mexicans to wear white T-shirts on Sunday to show they do not agree with Lopez Obrador.