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Mexico’s ruling party faces crisis as leaders quit

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MEXICO CITY — Mexico's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) faced one of its deepest crisis in 71 years Tuesday as top officials quit after Sunday's humiliating election loss, sources within the party said.

Sources in the PRI, which has held power since 1929, told Reuters that party President Dulce Maria Sauri and General Secretary Esteban Moctezuma had both resigned.

The party did not officially confirm the resignations.

PRI presidential hopeful Francisco Labastida's stunning loss to opposition candidate Vicente Fox in Sunday's race left the party with no choice but to give up power in December, go into opposition and try to avoid a damaging power struggle or an outright split.

"We are one step away from a split and two steps away from beating the hell out of each other," a member of the PRI's exclusive political council told the daily Milenio.

Sources said Labastida was the most likely choice to take over the party's top spot but possibly faced a stiff internal challenge from old-style PRI politicians.

The party has long had differences between technocrat reformers like President Ernesto Zedillo and a group of old-style politicos derisively known as "Jurassic Park"—"dinosaur" politicians who wish they could turn the clock back to the PRI's days of unquestioned power.

The party groups vastly different interests that until now have been held together by the glue of power. Although the PRI will still govern 19 of Mexico's 31 states, the presidency was its main source of power.

Emergency meeting set, put off

The 360 members of the party's National Executive Committee had scheduled a emergency meeting late Tuesday to discuss the resignations and the PRI's future, but the meeting was postponed.

Hard-line Tabasco state Gov. Roberto Madrazo fired the first salvo in what could be an internal power struggle by accusing the party leadership of acting too quickly in trying to call the emergency meeting.

"I get the feeling the more conservative groups within our party have failed to understand either the reasons for our defeat or the magnitude of the disaster," Madrazo said in a letter to Emilio Gamboa Patron, the party's political secretary.

"What is at stake is the possible survival of our party. That goes beyond a struggle between groups," he added in the letter, a copy of which was faxed to Reuters.

Speculation was rife in Mexican media that Madrazo and former Interior Minister Manuel Bartlett Diaz were trying to take the party's reins.

Madrazo lost to Labastida, also a former state governor, last year in the PRI's first primary—a big step toward openness in a party where the sitting president had always hand-picked his successor.

"Will the PRI be refounded?" one reporter asked as party officials in dark suits made their way into the PRI's Mexico City headquarters.

"That is not the right word. What is necessary, however, is an urgent restructuring," top party member Manlio Fabio Beltrones replied.