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Big crowd recharges Mexico leftists' batteries

Written by: Staff

MEXICO CITY, Feb 26: Up to 100,000 people greeted the front runner for Mexico's presidential election at a rally in the heart of the capital on Sunday, giving the leftist candidate a lift after a lead in opinion polls slipped.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City, told the crowd in the city's Zocalo main square he would give priority to Mexico's millions of poor if he wins the vote.

''It's about a real renovation, a true purification of public life. That's why I am here in the Zocalo so we can transform our country together,'' he said.

Lopez Obrador promised to slash wages of top bureaucrats and judges in a cost-cutting campaign. Local business and some on Wall Street fear he may turn out to be a populist like Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, but the leftist denies that.

Lopez Obrador rarely highlights foreign policy in speeches but has begun warning in recent rallies that he would defend Mexican sovereignty.

''The next president of Mexico will not be the puppet of any foreign government,'' he said in a comment echoing remarks he made on tour in the city of Guadalajara last week.

He made no direct reference to the United States, by far Mexico's most important neighbor. He has previously said he wants good relations with Washington.

Lopez Obrador has led opinion polls for the July 2 election for the last three years by as much as 14 points at times but his advantage has looked less sure since rivals began rolling out expensive campaigns this year.

One poll last week put his lead over conservative Felipe Calderon, from President Vicente' Fox's National Action Party, at only three percentage points but another survey showed he was between 5 and 9 points ahead.

Lopez Obrador is hugely popular in Mexico City, which he ran for five years, winning plaudits for upgrading a congested ring road, refurbishing the dilapidated Spanish colonial center and introducing welfare programs.

''He is the best mayor we have ever had here in Mexico City.

He gets things done,'' said manufacturer Asuncion Gomez, 53.

Lopez Obrador plans to repeat one of his most popular measures as mayor, a monthly pension for the over-70s, throughout Mexico if he becomes president.

Despite its popularity in the capital, Lopez Obrador's Party of the Democratic Revolution is traditionally weak and badly organized in the north of Mexico.

But large crowds at recent leftist rallies in conservative areas like the city of Monterrey suggest Lopez Obrador's personal appeal can overcome his party's shortcomings in those regions, political analysts say.

Party aides say that while Sunday's rally was planned months in advance it came at a good time for Lopez Obrador, an austere widower who wants to slash government spending.


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