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Disgraced former president returns to Mexico

MEXICO CITY (AP) -- Carlos Salinas de Gortari, the most vilified former Mexican president in recent memory, returned home Saturday to the country he left in disgrace four years ago.

The two-day trip was the first visit home for the man widely blamed for the crushing 1995 peso crisis and recession.The tone of Salinas' return stood in deep contrast to that of his triumphant departure from the presidency in December 1994, after six years of market-oriented reforms that his supporters said elevated Mexico out of the third world.

Salinas avoided public appearances after arriving on a flight Saturday from Ireland, where he has been living in self-imposed exile since leaving Mexico in March, 1995.

Days after he left the presidency, the debts he had assumed during his 1988-1994 term forced the government to sharply devalue the peso, plunging the country into a two-year recession. Salinas has argued that his successor, Ernesto Zedillo, mismanaged the debt problems and caused the crisis.

"I'm not going to deny that there were insufficiencies, that errors were committed," Salinas said of his economic policies during a long, largely self-serving interview with a local television network.

People on the streets of Mexico City were unforgiving.

"This guy shouldn't be allowed into the country. He did terrible things to the Mexican people," said Jose Estrado, a 59-year-old maintenance worker. "The worst thing is that he'll never be made to answer for it."

According to a 70-year-old unwritten tradition, Mexican presidents are not called to account for the actions after leaving office.

Salinas avoided reporters and briefly ducked into a Saturday ceremony marking his son's graduation from a Mexico City university.

It is unclear how Mexicans would react to a public appearance by Salinas, something he said he wasn't planning before leaving Mexico on Sunday. Salinas, tarred by tales of corruption and economic mismanagement, is still regularly lampooned as a smirking thief by Mexican street performers.

During his administration, bankers charged with fraud in the near-collapse of the country's financial system gave multimillion dollar donations to Salinas' Institutional Revolutionary Party, which has held the presidency without interruption since 1929.