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Thousands Protest Alleged Fraud in Mexico Presidential Election

Tens of thousands of Mexicans marched in the capital yesterday to protest alleged fraud and vote-buying in the country’s July 1 presidential election.

Beating drums and waving flags, the protesters chanted “Out Pena,” in reference to Enrique Pena Nieto, whose victory restored the once-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, to power after a 12-year hiatus.

Runner-up Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, while denying he was behind the marches, which he said was a citizens’ movement, repeated a call he’s made almost daily since the July 1 vote for a full probe of alleged vote-buying by the PRI. A recount of more than half of 50.3 million ballots cast was completed July 6, giving Pena Nieto 38.2 percent compared with 31.6 percent for Lopez Obrador.

“The results were manipulated and showed lots of vote buying,” Citlalli Avila Espinoza, a 46-year-old graphic artist who was among the protesters marching peacefully along the busy Paseo de la Reforma, said in an interview. “We want in a peaceful manner to repudiate these results.”

Allegations that the PRI handed out bank cards, groceries and other gifts in exchange for votes are reviving Mexicans’ concerns that Pena Nieto will be tolerant of corruption that marked the PRI’s previous 71-year-rule until 2000.

Many of yesterday’s protesters were members of the anti-PRI movement formed by students on the Internet in the run-up to the election.

Lopez Obrador, 58, hasn’t repeated his call from six years ago for supporters to take to the streets, saying that he’s evaluating the election day by day and will pursue his complaints through legal means. The former Mexico City mayor said he’ll next address the media tomorrow at 8 a.m. local time.

After losing the 2006 race to President Felipe Calderon by less than a percentage point, Lopez Obrador’s supporters occupied Mexico City’s central plaza and main business avenue for weeks with encampments.

Chavez Congratulations

In what may be a bellwether for Lopez Obrador’s ability to protest the election, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who six years ago backed him and didn’t recognize Calderon’s victory for months, yesterday congratulated the 45-year-old Pena Nieto.

Chavez “reiterated Venezuela’s will to work with Mexico in deepening bilateral cooperation in the union of our peoples,” Venezuela’s information ministry said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.

The ruling National Action Party, or PAN, whose candidate finished third, has also accused the PRI of fraud and vote buying. Still, unlike Lopez Obrador, who has refused to concede defeat, the PAN recognized the PRI’s victory as irreversible.

Pena Nieto’s campaign said in an e-mailed statement that the candidate acknowledges “the right of other parties and candidates to resort to legal actions to resolve any doubts that arise, but the transparency of the electoral process and the support of Mexican society” for the campaign are “indisputable.”

Gift-giving is widespread in Mexican elections, is only considered illegal if made in exchange for promises of a vote and can’t be used to justify throwing out results.

To contact the reporter on this story: Eric Martin in Mexico City at emartin21@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at jgoodman19@bloomberg.net

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