Protests Disrupt Mexico's State-of-the-Union Speech

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Mexican President Vicente Fox refused to deliver his state-of-the nation report to Congress Friday, after leftist lawmakers seized control of the stage. Protests over the election of Fox's successor have led to a court fight that has paralyzed Mexican politics.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Mexico's President Vicente Fox was unable to deliver his state of the union address last night. Lawmakers from the party of leftist candidate who's contesting the July election took over the podium. For the first time ever the annual address to Congress was cancelled. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO reporting:

This was slated to be the poignant farewell address of a landmark president who broke with 71 years of one party rule and supposedly put Mexico on the path to real democracy. Instead, it was a mess.

(Soundbite of chanting)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Dozens of members of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's party took to the podium chanting for a vote by vote recount, the signature cry of supporters of the leftist leader. They say that his rival, Felipe Calderon, stole the July 2nd election with the help of President Fox, who's from his party. For the first time in modern Mexican history, a president due to give a state of the union speech left without entering the hall. He made a brief statement while handing in his enforma(ph) or address in written form to Congress in the lobby of the building.

President VINCENTE FOX (Mexico): (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Fox said faced with the attitude of a group of legislatures that make it impossible to read the speech I have prepared for this occasion, I am leaving the building. And with that the session was adjourned by the speaker.

Unidentified Man (Mexican House Speaker): (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The lawmaker said they would hold the hall until barricades they call illegal around Congress were brought down. In anticipation of trouble, riot police, water canons and attack dogs were put at the ready. And an unprecedented 10 blocks were cordoned off. However, there ended up being only a few minor scuffles.

(Soundbite of crowd chanting)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Across town Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador held a rally in Mexico City's main square, the Zocalo, to thousands of supporters who continue a sit-in there. He called for peaceful protests and told demonstrators not to march on Congress.

Mr. ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR (Mexican Presidential Candidate): (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He said what they want is for us to fall into their trap, which will justify their oppression against us. He also railed against what he says are Mexico's corrupt institutions, at one point shouting: to hell with them. For his part, Vicente Fox finally did get to make his speech. It was broadcast live to the nation from his presidential palace. He called for unity, but he also made his own jabs at the opposition.

President FOX: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says those who attack our laws and institutions attack our own history, attack Mexico. No one can say they are for Mexico when they attack it. A divided society, he said, is a weak society. Fox is leaving office with soaring approval ratings, in the high 60's. But the Mexico he's bequeathing his successor is in crisis. By law Mexico's election tribunal has to name a president-elect next week. It is widely expected to be Felipe Calderon. Lopez Obrador and his followers say they will fight on.

(Soundbite of music)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Back at Congress, the tumultuous evening ended with all the lawmakers rising to their feet to sing the national anthem. It is the only thing they're expected to do together in the spirit of solidarity for a very long while. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Mexico City.

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