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MEXICAN REBELS FAVOR PEACEFUL OVERTHROW

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Ski-masked rebels and some 5,000 supporters closed their convention in a southern Mexico jungle calling for peaceful overthrow of the ruling party in this month's presidential elections.

"It is not the time for weapons. We put ourselves to one side, but we will not go away," said Sub-comandante Marcos, leader of the Zapatista National Liberation Army, as the four-day meeting drew to a close Tuesday afternoon.The rebels said they will hang onto the weapons they used to launch a New Year's Day uprising in the southern state of Chiapas until the battle for democracy has been won.

More than 145 people were killed in fighting between rebel and government troops before a Jan. 12 cease-fire. The rebels were demanding better economic and social conditions for Indians, a minority often discriminated against.

The convention was aimed at bolstering the rebels' image as defenders of the poor and champions of democracy.

They had lost much popular support after rejecting a government peace proposal in June and have warned that their smoldering rebellion could reignite if balloting in this year's national election isn't fair.

The frontrunning presidential candidate, Ernesto Zedillo of the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, has promised the Aug. 21 balloting will be the cleanest ever.

PRI has not lost a presidential contest in its 65-year history amid frequent charges of election fraud.