Calderon's Swearing-In Marred by Violence

Mexico's conservative president-elect Felipe Calderon is sworn in amid continuing tension and anger over this summer's elections. Calderon won the presidency with less than 1 percent of the vote, leaving Mexico's electorate divided. Supporters of leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador are expected to try to disrupt today's ceremony.

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Despite brawls and threats, Mexico's president took his oath of office in a divided congress today. Lawmakers from the party of leftist leader Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador tried to block the ceremony.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro has this report on the day's dramatic events in Mexico City.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: At 8:00 a.m. on the dot the smack down began. Opposition lawmakers brawled with members of President Felipe Calderon's party, throwing chairs and punches in a bid to gain ground in the congressional chamber, ahead of the new president's appearance there.

(Soundbite of crowd chanting)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Like some bizarre cheerleader's duel, congressmen then cried out to each other in the ensuing hours. On one side of the hall leftist legislators shouted Obrador over and over, the name of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who lost the presidential election by less than one percent. On the other, members of Calderon's party responded Mexico, Mexico, a waste of time.

Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking foreign language)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Then came the moment for Calderon to come into the hall. Up until the last few minutes there had been speculation it wouldn't happen. But after days of camping out inside congress, Calderon lawmakers had done their job. They held the podium and hustled him in through the back of the stage with outgoing President Vicente Fox in tow.

Unidentified Man #2: (Speaking foreign language)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He was almost drowned out by screams and jeers, but Calderon was able to do what the constitution demanded of him. He didn't linger. All in all, the whole thing lasted about three minutes. Afterwards, Calderon's lawmakers were gloating while their leftist opposition remained defiant. Senator Dante Delgado.

Senator DANTE DELGADO (Mexico): (Through translator) I'm sorry to say this was not an act of authority. It's an act of weakness to come in through the back door and to leave through the back door.

(Soundbite of applause)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The showdown at Congress forced Calderon to give his inaugural address at the National Auditorium, where the scene couldn't have been more different. It was packed with his supporters, who clapped and chanted yes we did it, when he appeared.

Calderon opened his speech by stating that he had faced down the opposition and gone to swear his oath in front of congress. And he went on to warn his opponents that he would not be easily cowed.

President FELIPE CALDERON (Mexico): (Through translator) I know the complexity of circumstances in which I am assuming power. Nonetheless, I am used to confronting and overcoming all obstacles.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Still, Calderon cannot pass legislation in such an obstructed congress, and he realizes it.

President CALDERON: (Through translator) The conflicts between politicians only hurt the regular people and above all, those who have less. This is why I repeat my invitation to a dialogue with all the political forces. For the good of Mexico, this dialogue cannot wait. I will talk to whomever is willing to talk and I will construct with whomever wants to construct, but I will always govern for all.

(Soundbite of applause)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You wouldn't know it to look at the main Mexican news programs who only covered Calderon, but tens of thousands of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador supporters took to the streets today.

Unidentified Man #3: (Speaking foreign language)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: They were calling someone else president, Lopez Obrador, who says he's the legitimate leader of Mexico. Around 20 million Mexicans - 20 percent of the population - believe there was fraud on election day and that Calderon stole the vote. It was a message that Lopez Obrador endorsed at today's rally.

Mr. ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Through translator) We will defend the right of the people to freely choose their leaders. We will never back down on this issue. We will continue to act with firmness. There will not be political normalization, or there is no democracy in our country.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The country is as polarized as it ever has been. Calderon led one of the most negative mudslinging campaigns in Mexican history. Since then, Lopez Obrador has done everything he can to discredit the new president. No one for now is backing down. Mexico is in for a bumpy ride.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Mexico City.

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