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Fox outlines his battle plan

Meanwhile, PRI tries to defuse internal struggle

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MEXICO CITY — Mexican President-elect Vicente Fox laid out his battle plans Tuesday to combat crime, corruption and the drug trade, while the party whose 71-year reign he ended scrambled to defuse an internal power struggle.

In a packed meeting with foreign correspondents, Fox of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) said the one firm commitment of his government would be to reduce corruption in the government "to normal levels" within its six-year term.

Everything else, from battling the rampant crime that opinion polls show tops citizens' concerns, to overhauling the creaking justice system would take longer, said Fox, the first president to emerge from the opposition in seven decades.

Fox said his first steps to counter robberies, murders and assaults would be to reform the crime-busting institutions.

He would set up a Security and Justice Ministry, taking responsibility for domestic security away from the Interior Ministry, and placing all federal police under the new entity.

"This separation (of responsibilities) is crucial for eliminating corruption, pressure on the citizens and espionage," Fox, a 58-year-old rancher and former Coca-Cola executive, told the foreign news media.

As for the attorney general's office, now charged with investigating federal crimes and combating the drug trade, Fox said he would remove its power to investigate and judge cases and make it a prosecutor's office like the U.S. attorney general.

"We will separate these tasks so there is no corruption, no prostitution, in the procuration of justice," Fox said. "This dramatic process will go to the roots of a problem that has become one of the gravest facing this nation, corruption, impunity and organized crime."

Mexico is the transit route for about half the Colombian cocaine consumed in the United States and is also a significant producer of heroin, marijuana and methamphetamines. Its drug lords are now more powerful and wealthy than the Colombian cocaine mob ever was, U.S. officials say.

Fox said he did not believe any single country could take on the narcotics cartels by itself.

"I don't think any country on its own can solve this cancer; it has to be a coordinated international effort," he said.

On corruption within the government, a plague blamed to some extent for the fall of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in Sunday's historic vote, Fox said he would set up a commission of citizens to investigate past crimes.

He also hoped Congress would become a more vigorous watchdog over the executive arm.

Among cases he said the citizens' commission would look into the 1994 assassination of PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio, the killing of Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo in 1993 and the $100 billion government bailout of banks and debtors following the December 1994 peso devaluation.

The PRI, meanwhile, which had held the presidency since the party's founding in 1929, tried to stop a damaging internal power struggle from boiling over into a party split.

PRI President Dulce Maria Sauri and other members of the PRI's National Executive Committee handed in their resignations Monday, but late on Tuesday they canceled an emergency meeting of the committee and said they would stay in their posts.

Rumors and media reports on Tuesday suggested party hard-liners such as Tabasco Gov. Roberto Madrazo and former interior minister Manuel Bartlett were trying to take the party's reins of power from modernizers close to Zedillo.

Madrazo fired what could be the first salvo in a power struggle by accusing the party leadership of acting too quickly in trying to call an 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.

Unaccustomed to defeat and with no clear ideology except for the maintenance of power, the PRI could tear itself apart if factionalism grips it now, analysts say.