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Mexico begins recount of presidential tallies

Leftists demand that all ballots be checked

MEXICO CITY -- Mexico began a marathon recount of vote tallies in its disputed presidential race yesterday, determined to calm fears of a rigged election and check a preliminary count that gave conservative Felipe Calderón a slim lead.

As the tally progressed, that slim lead appeared to evaporate. With 90 percent of tally sheets recounted at 300 district headquarters across the country, former Mexico City Mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador had 36 percent, compared with 35 percent for Calderón. The preliminary count completed earlier in the week had Calderón winning by 1 percentage point.

However, Calderón insisted he had won and even offered to include his rival in his Cabinet.

Officials from Calderón's ruling party said López Obrador was only leading because more votes had been recounted in areas where he was strongest, and they insisted the trend would not hold.

They also accused the López Obrador's party of stalling tactics in states where the conservative Calderón was strongest, saying it was deliberately trying to give the impression that López Obrador was ahead as the count progressed.

In an exclusive interview with the Associated Press, the National Action Party's Calderón said he would be willing to include López Obrador in his Cabinet -- an effort to build a coalition government and avoid weeks of political impasse. But he said he did not believe his opponent would accept, adding that the two men had not spoken to each other since Sunday's election.

Election workers at the district headquarters across the country were adding up the tallies compiled election day by poll volunteers. Under law, they must work around the clock.

Leonel Cota, president of López Obrador's party, accused election officials of deliberately mishandling that count to confirm a win for Calderón, the ruling-party candidate. He said López Obrador won Sunday's vote.

``We are not going to recognize an election that showed serious evidence of fraud, that was dirty from the start, manipulated from the start," he said.

When polls closed, citizens staffing the 130,488 polling places opened the ballot boxes and counted the votes, then sealed them into packages with their tallies attached and reported unofficial totals to the Federal Electoral Institute, or IFE. The institute then posted preliminary results on its website from about 41 million ballots cast.

The sealed packages were delivered to district headquarters, where elections workers used the tallies yesterday to add up the formal, legal vote totals.

Workers were not reviewing individual ballots except when the packages appeared tampered with or their tallies were missing, illegible or inconsistent -- including at least 2.6 million ballots likely to shrink Calderón's lead to 0.64 percent if included, election officials said Tuesday.

At one electoral office in Mexico City, officials opened a ballot box because the vote tally was missing. The votes were then re counted out loud while 10 party representatives stood by with tape recorders and video cameras.

``I'm exhausted. I'm still tired from election day," said counter Rocio Sanchez, 41, an IFE employee. ``But this is something we have to do by law."

Cota said Democratic Revolution would not recognize the results without a ballot-by-ballot recount. But IFE President Luis Carlos Ugalde said that was not possible.

``Mexican law is very clear on when a ballot box can be opened: only when there are problems with the vote tallies, when the tally sheet has obviously been changed, or when the box has been tampered with," Ugalde said.

Once the count is complete, the seven-judge Federal Electoral Tribunal hears any complaints and can overturn elections. By law, it must certify a winner by Sept. 6, and its decision is final.

Cota said the party might take its case to international tribunals.

Ugalde scolded both candidates , saying: ``No political party can declare or affirm, at this time, that its candidate has received the largest number of votes."

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