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Mexico leftists silence Fox in election protest

Written by: Staff
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MEXICO CITY, Sept 2 (Reuters) Mexican President Vicente Fox was forced to abandon his last state of the nation address to Congress after leftist lawmakers alleging election fraud seized the podium and refused to let him speak.

Shortly before Fox was due to give his speech yesterday, dozens of legislators who support leftist presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador marched up to the podium, some with banners calling the president a traitor to democracy.

Fox, who leaves office in December, avoided a more serious showdown with those who contend Lopez Obrador was robbed of the election by simply giving a copy of his speech to Congress officials and quickly returning to his residence.

It was the first time in Mexican history that opposition legislators have blocked the president's annual address and marked an escalation of a crisis that has rocked the country since a bitterly contested July 2 presidential election.

''Faced with the attitude of a group of legislators that makes it impossible to read the speech I have prepared for this occasion, I am leaving the building,'' Fox said in the lobby of Congress before walking out.

In a televised address to the nation later yesterday, Fox said the protest that silenced him was ''not an affront to me personally but to the office of the president and the Mexican people.'' In the streets outside Congress, small groups of left-wing protesters threw rocks and bottles at lines of riot police but there were no serious clashes.

Lopez Obrador has led supporters in huge street protests in the last two months and his Party of the Democratic Revolution had vowed to deny Fox a platform in Congress on Friday.

They accuse the president of complicity in a massive fraud to give victory to conservative ruling party candidate Felipe Calderon, his former energy minister. But foreign observers and Mexico's top electoral court do not agree the election was rigged.

Fox was hailed as a democracy hero when he was elected in 2000, ending 71 years of one-party rule, and still enjoys high popularity ratings as he nears the end of his term.

MORE REUTERS PDM BS0921

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