Mexico City's mayor challenges government to charge him with crime


MEXICO CITY - The capital's popular mayor challenged the federal government yesterday to charge him with a crime now that lawmakers have stripped him of immunity and jeopardized his 2006 presidential bid.

Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the early presidential front-runner in opinion surveys, said he would defend himself in court against expected charges related to a land dispute.

"I committed no crimes, neither large nor small," he told foreign reporters yesterday.

Lawmakers stripped Lopez Obrador of his official immunity last week. Federal prosecutors say he violated a judge's order to temporarily stop road construction to a hospital.

If the case goes to trial, Lopez Obrador would lose his political rights during the process and could be barred from next year's ballot.

Since last week's congressional vote, Lopez Obrador has taken a leave of absence from his job and launched a public relations war with President Vicente Fox's administration, holding court each morning with reporters, sympathizers and passers-by in a public park.

Meanwhile, confusing signals have been emanating from Los Pinos, the presidential compound.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for Fox told The Washington Post that the president might pardon Lopez Obrador if the mayor were found guilty.

But yesterday, Fox's office issued a statement disavowing his spokesman's comments.

In any event, legal experts said the president doesn't have the authority to pardon an elected official for crimes committed while in office.

Lopez Obrador said he would not seek release on bail if his case goes to trial, but rather answer charges from jail.

But he also said he would seek an injunction against losing his political rights.

He also called for peaceful demonstrations to fight what he called a step backward for Mexico's democracy.

"The majority of Mexicans know that I'm not being judged for violating the law, but because they don't want me to be on the ballot in 2006," he said. "This is a blow to incipient Mexican democracy."

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