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‘Today we have gained independence’

Opposition supporters overjoyed in Mexico

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MEXICO CITY — The air was white with a confetti blizzard, and hundreds of victory horns blew as one. At one point, the ground actually shook as thousands of feet performed a communal victory dance.

Fifteen thousand supporters of Vicente Fox, the first opposition candidate to win Mexico's presidency in more than a century, swarmed Mexico's Independence Monument early Monday, many still not able to believe their candidate had really won.

But he had. And now it was their chance to be a part of history.

"Today we have gained our independence," 59-year-old Antonio Alonso cried as he dodged an explosion of confetti spray and weaved his way through a sea of the blue-and-white flags of Fox's party.

Delirious Fox supporters brandishing huge foam fingers with Fox's trademark victory sign chanted "Vicente! Vicente!" and danced in human chains through the swelling crowds.

Fox, of the center-right National Action Party, defeated Francisco Labastida of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. The PRI has ruled the country for 71 years — longer than most of the revelers have been alive.

And even before the PRI's creation, Mexico had not seen a peaceful transfer of power between one faction and another for decades stretching back into the 19th century.

"We see it and we feel it! Vicente is our president!" some yelled. Others, echoing the "enough already" slogan of Fox's campaign ads, cried out: "Already he has arrived. Already he has yanked the PRI out of office."

Housewives, salesmen, students, teachers and laborers formed a circle around the gilded angel at the center of the monument. They wore rubber Fox masks on their heads, painted the initials of his party on their faces and plastered bumper stickers on their stomachs.

They hung from light poles, draped themselves over statues and banged on drums.

"We lived through 71 years of hope to arrive at this moment," said 36-year-old Enrique Robledo Molina, who traveled from the southern state of Chiapas to celebrate. "We are fortunate to be able to see this change.

"Tell the world that we Mexicans are happy."

When Fox arrived to address the crowd, a wall of white confetti foam rose skyward from hundreds of can-wielding hands, and a mariachi band played Las Mananitas, the traditional Mexican birthday song. Fox turned 58 on election day.

Large video screens alternately flashed images of the victorious candidate and shots of the boisterous, singing crowds. News helicopters buzzed overhead trying to capture the historic moment at its climax.

Meanwhile, the silent image of Labastida stared silently at the crowd from large banners attached to buildings and strung between light poles around the plaza.

"Labastida got left at the altar," said a smiling Manuel Ruiz, 64, confetti foam speckling his glasses and the front page of a newspaper proclaiming "Fox Triumphs" hanging by string from his waist. "This change was excellent. And very necessary."

Fox supporters also raised their glasses and voices in other parts of the country.

In Culiacan, the capital of the Pacific Coast state of Sinaloa where Labastida once served as governor, about 500 revelers toasted each other and chanted "Vicente!" while hurling insults at unfortunate PRI supporters who passed by.

More than 100 people also gathered in the main plaza of the city of San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas.

In Mexico City, Fox supporters spilled from the monument into the tourist area known as the Pink Zone carrying banners saying: "Welcome President Fox."