Mexican opposition candidate stages mass rally in capital

MEXICO CITY - Battling last-minute charges of illegal foreign financing, Mexico's top opposition candidate for president was closing his campaign in the capital Saturday with a mass rally in the country's central plaza.

In the final weekend of campaigning before the July 2 election, Vicente Fox of the conservative National Action Party was in a statistical dead heat in the polls with Francisco Labastida of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which has governed Mexico for 71 years.

Shouting ''not one minute more of the PRI,'' a crowd of 50 Fox supporters set fire to a Labastida campaign flag at the city's independence monument before a planned march to the city's Zocalo plaza.

Labastida drew 150,000 to the plaza last weekend for his last campaign rally in Mexico City. A third candidate, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, plans a rally there Sunday.

Wearing a T-shirt that read ''Democracy for Mexico Now,'' Lilia Barajas said she was voting for Fox because the PRI hadn't been able to improve the lives of Mexicans.

''We are tired of promises that aren't fulfilled,'' she said, watching Fox supporters dance in the streets to pounding pop music. She complained that many Mexicans were still poor, and ''wanted to be able to survive in a dignified way.''

On Friday, Fox again appealed to Cardenas' backers to join him in toppling the governing party, known as the PRI. Cardenas is running a distant third in the polls.

''Cuauhtemoc has no chance at all to win,'' Fox said during a speech Friday in the Gulf coast oil city of Ciudad del Carmen. ''Let us unite the vote of the opposition to sink the candidacy of Labastida and achieve great agreement.''

Fox suggested that Cardenas was leading his followers to ''collective suicide'' by refusing to unite the opposition.

Cardenas, meanwhile, referred to Fox as a delinquent for allegedly accepting campaign contributions from abroad, which is banned in Mexico.

''What we are seeing is what sort of patriotism or nationalism somebody can have when he becomes a delinquent by accepting resources from abroad,'' Cardenas said Friday in the northern city of Monterrey.

The PRI on Friday submitted a formal complaint to the Federal Electoral Institute accusing Fox of receiving foreign contributions, and offered copies of checks they said proved the case.

Fox's aides insisted they have not received foreign funds and said the checks were not evidence of it.

They also accused the PRI of the very banking secrecy laws that they have used as a reason for refusing to reveal the names of prominent people whose debts were assumed by the government in a massive bank bailout.


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