Mexico's ruling party pledged Wednesday to not let leftist lawmakers derail the swearing-in of President-elect Felipe Calderon at Congress despite a standoff between legislators who spent the night brawling in the chambers and tossing one another off the speaker's platform.
The president of the lower house, Jorge Zermeno of Calderon's National Action Party, told the national TV Azteca network that he still hoped the legislature could pull off Friday's inauguration, which is supposed to be attended by foreign dignitaries, including former U.S. President George H.W. Bush.
"I think we can mend this despite these very embarrassing acts," a bleary-eyed Zermeno said after spending the night in the chambers.
But Democratic Revolution Party legislator Javier Gonzalez said his party's members weren't budging. The battle showed how hard it could be for Calderon to unite a nation divided since he narrowly defeated opposition candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in the disputed July 2 election.
Bloody street battles
The congressional chaos began Tuesday afternoon after conservative legislators of Calderon's National Action Party, or PAN, took over the speaker's podium early in the day amid rumors that leftist lawmakers planned to seize the podium, as they did before President Vicente Fox's Sept. 1 state-of-the-nation speech.
Leftists from Lopez Obrador's Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, quickly followed, and scuffles broke out. Congress has seen plenty of degrading behavior, but Tuesday's brawl came as Mexico faces central questions on the effectiveness of its government, with escalating turf wars between drug gangs and bloody street battles in the southern city of Oaxaca, which was seized for five months by leftist protesters.
Calderon has pledged to reach out to the millions of people who didn't vote for him by building a coalition government that will include several of his rival's proposals to help the poor. But so far, he has stacked his Cabinet with activists from his own party.
Tired and bedraggled, the lawmakers occasionally shoved and shouted for nearly 17 hours.
'This is not what the citizenry wants'
"I'm sorry this had to happen, but we were forced to do it," said PAN Rep. Juan Jose Rodriguez Pratts, whose colleagues occupied the upper steps of the broad, raised speaker's podium, while opposition legislators formed an angry knot on the bottom steps.
"There were clear indications, latent threats to do that, and so what we did was head that off to guarantee Friday's ceremony," he added.
President Vicente Fox's spokesman, Ruben Aguilar, said Wednesday the presidency laments the violence but that Fox planned to go ahead with plans to hand over his sash to Calderon at the Congress on Friday.
"This is not what the citizenry wants," he said.
Despite Calderon's determination to have the ceremony in the congressional chambers, some congressmen speculated that it could be moved to another venue. Some earlier presidents were sworn in at theaters or stadiums.
A leader of the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, Sen. Manlio Fabio Beltrones, said it would be "natural and logical" to hold the ceremony elsewhere.
Disputes over the July 2 elections are unlikely to go away. Lopez Obrador, who says he was cheated of the presidency by vote fraud, has declared himself the "legitimate president of Mexico," endorsed and led street protests and has refused to recognize or accept Calderon, whom he calls "the lackey" and "the spurious president."