<!--:es-->Under Fire, Mexico leftists vow more vote protests!<!--:-->

Under Fire, Mexico leftists vow more vote protests!

MEXICO CITY – Mexico’s government slammed the main opposition leader on Wednesday for crippling Mexico City to protest alleged fraud in a tight presidential election, but his senior aides vowed to turn the screws even tighter.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is heading the protests to pressure Mexico’s electoral court into ordering a full recount of votes in the July 2 presidential election he narrowly lost to the conservative ruling party’s candidate, Felipe Calderon.

Thousands of leftists have seized the capital’s vast Zocalo square and the main Reforma boulevard in support of Lopez Obrador, causing three straight days of traffic chaos and drawing fire from the government.

“Mexico City belongs to everyone. All those who live here deserve to have their rights respected,” said Ruben Aguilar, spokesman for President Vicente Fox, in a rare outburst.

He said the leftists were hurting the economy, putting jobs at risk and violating residents’ rights of free movement.

While the protests have been very peaceful, analysts say the tactic could backfire by angering residents and alienating some of Lopez Obrador’s former supporters.

Calderon is trying to take advantage. “They are shooting themselves in the foot,” a senior aide, Arturo Sarukhan, said of Lopez Obrador’s Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD.

Lopez Obrador has apologized for the disruption caused by his followers setting up protest camps in the Zocalo, one of the world’s biggest squares, and a six-mile (10-km) stretch of Reforma. But he insists it is a small price to pay and plans to extend the campaign of civil disobedience even further.

“They didn’t want to believe we would toughen the measures. And we did. There will be additional ones,” Gerardo Fernandez, a PRD spokesman, said on Wednesday. He said the new tactics would be announced in coming days.

Lopez Obrador has a loyal following in Mexico City, where he was mayor, and among Mexico’s poor, for he has promised ambitious welfare programs and infrastructure spending.

“He has helped the poor,” said Rafael Zuniga, who voted for Fox in 2000 but now backs Lopez Obrador and joined the occupation of Mexico City’s business district.

He said some residents have hurled abuse at him and other protesters, who sleep on the ground on a main intersection, cook meals over a gas burner and have not bathed since Sunday.

“The people who go by in their cars are just fighting for themselves, for their own money, their own jobs. They are not looking out for anyone else,” he said.

Critics say Lopez Obrador is a rabble-rouser and this week’s protest has upset many in central Mexico City.

“If this is what Lopez Obrador is like as a candidate, I don’t want him to be president,” said Victor Manuel Luna, the head of reception at a downtown hotel where occupancy has slumped since the protests began on Sunday night.

European Union observers say they found no evidence of fraud in the election, but Lopez Obrador says he has evidence vote returns were tampered with.

He wants the electoral court to order a full recount. The court has until August 31 to decide, meaning the political deadlock could drag on for at least another month.

The uncertainty hit Mexico’s financial markets earlier this week, although they rebounded on Wednesday. The peso currency gained 0.7 percent and the stock market was up 0.86 percent.

Calderon won the election by a narrow margin of just 0.6 percentage points, and insists there was no fraud. His lawyers said on Wednesday they expect a recount of some ballot boxes but are confident the results will clearly favor Calderon.

The new president will take office on Dec 1. Fox, whose election victory in 2000 ended seven decades of one-party rule, was barred under Mexico’s laws from standing for re-election.