January 15, 2001

Standoff between federal, state authorities in
Mexico turns violent


                  MEXICO CITY, Mexico (AP) -- Hundreds of hard-line supporters of Mexico's
                  former ruling party prevented federally-designated election supervisors from
                  replacing a stacked local election board, during a violent confrontation Monday in
                  southern Yucatan state.

                  Tossing bottles, eggs and fruit and wielding sticks, supporters of the Institutional
                  Revolutionary Party, of PRI -- which lost Mexico's presidency this year after 71
                  years in power -- prevented the supervisors from taking possession of election
                  offices, despite a court order that unseated the old board.

                  Several opposition party activists were pushed, kicked or hit with eggs, and one
                  was beaten with sticks, as they tried to accompany the supervisors to their
                  offices, the government news agency Notimex reported.

                  Local police did not intervene to restrain the PRI supporters, despite the fact the
                  confrontation took place just blocks from the state government headquarters in
                  the Yucatan capital of Merida, 620 miles (990 kms) east of Mexico City.

                  Despite the potential for more violence in the PRI's bid to hang on to one of its
                  last bastions of support, a spokeswoman for President Vicente Fox said his
                  administration would not intervene.

                  "The judicial branch, not the executive branch, has the decision on the use of law
                  enforcement agencies" to resolve the standoff, said spokeswoman Martha
                  Sahagun. "Of course, the government hopes the use of force will not be needed."

                  Opposition activists accuse the state's PRI governor, Victor Cervera, of staging
                  the demonstration as part of an effort to rob the May 27 gubernatorial elections
                  by stacking local boards with PRI supporters, and then defying an order by the
                  Federal Electoral Tribunal to replace them.

                  PRI supporters have tried to make the dispute a question of states' rights,
                  claiming -- without much legal ground -- that only the state congress, not the
                  federal court, can name state election officials. The Constitution does give the
                  court that power in certain cases.

                  The PRI also sought Monday to make the United States an issue in the dispute,
                  when PRI legislators said federal authorities should consider expelling the U.S.
                  consul in Yucatan, who had reportedly attended an opposition-party convention
                  there Sunday.

                  Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City were not immediately available to
                  comment on the report. Mexico's Constitution prohibits foreigners from getting
                  involved in domestic politics.

                  'No foreigner should be allowed to trample on the sovereignty of Yucatan state,"
                  PRI legislator Myrna Hoyos said during a heated debate in the PRI-dominated
                  state legislature.

                  Opposition lawmaker Sergio Chan Lugo countered by accusing the PRI of
                  "seeking to defend the strong-arm rule of Victor Cervera, even at the cost of
                  violating the law."

                  Manuel Bacab, one of the leaders of the PRI demonstrators, said "we came here
                  to oppose a violation of the sovereignty of Yucatan state."

                  The court-designated supervisors, charged with overseeing the May 27 voting,
                  were finally sworn into duty by three notary publics in a park near the election
                  office building, but the old board has refused to leave the facilities.

                  After losing the presidency in July elections, the PRI has lost governorships in
                  two other key states. It's only gubernatorial victory in 2000, in nearby Tabasco
                  state, was overturned by the same court because of widespread fraud.

                  The PRI allegedly used vote-buying, ballot-stuffing and pressure tactics to win
                  many elections in the past. For example, Cervera toured Yucatan giving out
                  building materials, bicycles and other gifts immediately before the July elections.

                  On Sunday, Fox's National Action Party named its candidate for governor in
                  May elections, Federal Sen. Patricio Patron Laviada. the state capital, Merida, on

                  Some opposition parties have demanded the federal government use force, if
                  necessary, to enforce the court ruling. PRI Gov. Victor Cervera Pacheco on
                  Saturday warned federal officials that, saying he would "do everything in my
                  ability to safeguard the regime."