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MEXICANS DEMAND CRUSADE, CALL ELECTION `FRAUDULENT’

SHARE MEXICANS DEMAND CRUSADE, CALL ELECTION `FRAUDULENT’

More than 70,000 angry Mexicans packed the capital's historic "zocalo" Saturday to back opposition presidential candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas' call for a national crusade to prove last Sunday's elections were fraudulent.

The protest came as the official results were released, confirming that Ernesto Zedillo and his long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party won with less than half of the largest vote in Mexican history."The struggle is not over," Cardenas shouted before a sea of flags, banners and signs in the shadow of the presidential palace. "The Aug. 21 elections came and went, and we still don't know the results of the election. Today, we cannot declare victory, but neither can we recognize the victory of anyone else."

The crowd roared, chanting, "The people are tired of compromise" and "Perfect dictatorship, perfect fraud." Others simply painted the words, "No Fraud" on their cheeks.

Billed as a barometer of popular dissent after federal elections that were to be a watershed of Mexican democracy and change, the rally was five times the size of a similar Cardenas protest in the same downtown plaza last Monday.

But Saturday's peaceful gathering was about half the size of Cardenas' protests in the aftermath of the 1988 elections, when many Mexicans felt that Cardenas clearly had been cheated out of the presidency.

Saturday's official voting results from the Federal Electoral Institute confirmed that Zedillo was the first PRI candidate since the governing party came to power in 1929 to fail to win a majority of the vote. The 42-year-old Yale-educated economist drew 48.87 percent of the vote.

Against that backdrop, the size of Saturday's protest that filled the "zocalo" - and smaller demonstrations denouncing electoral fraud elsewhere in the country - represented a potentially potent force to push Zedillo into carrying out promises of vast government and ruling party reform during a six-year term that will take Mexico into the 21st century.

The tallies announced by the quasi-independent electoral institute gave second-place Diego Fernandez de Cevallos of the National Action Party (PAN) 26.09 percent of the vote. Cardenas and his Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) won 16.42 percent, with six other candidates from smaller parties splitting the remainder.

Arturo Nunez, director general of the electoral institute, said those "definitive results" were from 291 of the nation's 300 electoral districts and 89,731 of the 96,394 precincts, or a total of 92.9 percent of Mexico's unprecedented 77.5 percent voter turnout. The handful of remaining ballots, a commission source said, would be confirmed by the end of Sunday but would not substantially change the result.