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ZEDILLO SAYS BASHING IS UNFAIR

The latest flurry of Mexico-bashing in Washington is "rude and very offensive" and should cease, Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo said Friday.

"Unfortunately, there are some politicians - and I don't want to provide names - who are using the Mexican situation to give themselves personal popularity and attract public attention," Zedillo said in an interview with the Dallas Morning News.Crime, drug trafficking and an unsteady economy remain daunting challenges, the president acknowledged, but that doesn't mean Mexico has turned into a forbidding land of villains and corruption.

"This is the very same country that had bright prospects only a few months ago," he said. "It has the same people, the same institutions and the same enormous courage to solve its problems."

In recent weeks, some members of Congress have used the debate over the $20 billion U.S. loan package to Mexico to criticize the Mexican government.

Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y. and one of the harshest critics, moved Thursday to block the loan, saying he was worried Mexico won't pay it back and citing "reports of rampant Mexican government corruption."

Such criticism is unfair, said Zedillo, a Yale-educated economist who took office four months ago.

"Some people are unfairly picturing Mexico as a country in turmoil, a country that has abandoned the laws of progress . . . and I think that's totally unfair," Zedillo said.

The government is taking strong, decisive steps to attack both government corruption and drug trafficking, he said.

"We have to go after the drug barons," Zedillo said. "It's not easy, but we have a specific plan to locate them and capture them."

Mexico is the main transit point for U.S.-bound cocaine smuggled from South America. Some U.S. analysts suggest that some high-level Mexican law enforcement officials - and perhaps even some politicians - have been corrupted by the multibillion-dollar trade.

Zedillo said he had seen no evidence that the traffickers had infiltrated the political system. How-ever, he said the narcotics business was clearly a serious problem.

"I see drug trafficking as the main threat to national security, not only because of its direct effects on crime, but also because traffickers move so much money," he said. "They have the means to corrupt our police and the institutions that are supposed to be in charge of applying the law. They have so many resources.

"Anything we do seems insufficient. We spend a lot of money, we lose a lot of lives of policemen. Yet the phenomenon is still there."

Still, he said, there have been some early successes during the first months of his administration. Cocaine, marijuana and heroin seizures are up over last year, and Zedillo said the fight had just begun.

Among his goals for the next few years are to boost Mexican law enforcement's technical and intelligence capabilities, continue to reform the judicial system and improve police training techniques.