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Tensions high on eve of elections in 3 Mexican states

MEXICO CITY—Gunmen dressed in black killed five people, including a child and two police officers, in Acapulco on Saturday, increasing tensions on the eve of elections for governor in three key state races.

The most closely watched balloting was in Guerrero, the state that includes Acapulco. The Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, has ruled in Guerrero since its founding in 1929. The results of the governors race there and in the Yucatan Peninsula state of Quintana Roo and in Baja California Sur could determine which of the country's three major parties leads in the already heated 2006 presidential race.

The killings in Acapulco occurred in three separate attacks at 8:30 a.m. local time (9:30 a.m. EST) that were aimed at police stations and police patrols. The assailants used AK-47 rifles and grenade launchers, according to state prosecutors. Police said many people were wounded, but they did not have a count.

Guerrero already had been tense since Wednesday, when a teacher who's a member of the Democratic Revolutionary Party, or PRD, Luis Vivar Galindo, was ambushed and wounded. PRD state leader Ricardo Monreal said it was "a provocation to dissuade voters."

The leftist PRD candidate, Zeferino Torreblancas, a businessman and former mayor of Acapulco, campaigned in rural areas with a slogan "No More Deaths," a reference to kidnappings and killings by the army and police.

Polls indicate he's running close to the PRI's Hector Astudillo, a lawyer who was mayor of the capital of Chilpancingo.

Guerrero is a mountainous state and one of the poorest in Mexico. Many of its people are peasants who are sympathetic to the PRD. Voters will choose a governor, 28 state legislators and 70 mayors.

PRI national leader Roberto Madrazo wants to keep his party's grip on the state in order to improve his own chances as a presidential candidate next year.

President Vicente Fox was elected in 2000, ending the PRI's 71-year reign. His six-year term ends in 2006, and by law he cannot run again.

A victory in Guerrero by the PRD would help presidential candidate Manuel Andres Lopez Obrador, the populist Mexico City mayor. Polls indicate he's the most popular candidate for next year's presidential elections.

Nationally, his party is frail and holds governorships in just five of Mexico's 31 states. Since losing the presidency, the PRI has won many state and local elections, and analysts say the party is well positioned to reclaim the presidency.

"The elections are a race between Lopez Obrador and Madrazo for the big presidential election of 2006," said George W. Grayson, a Mexico expert at Washington's think-tank Center for Strategic and International Studies. "The outcome will influence the strategy and leadership of the major political parties—the PRI, the PRD, and the PAN" (Fox's conservative National Action Party).

The races will likely be disputed, as has been the norm in prior elections, and decided by the nation's Federal Electoral Tribunal.

The government has sent special agents from the Special Prosecutor's office to the three states to watch for election hostilities and irregularities.

Quintana Roo, known for its beachfront Cancun tourist hotels, is thick with drug trafficking and corruption. In November 12 people were killed execution-style with one shot in the head. They included five agents of the Federal Agency of Investigations and two informants.

Polls show the PRI's Felix Gonzalez Canto, a veteran politician who's president of the PRI in the state, is ahead of opponents Addy Cecilia Joaquin Coldwell of the PAN, a state senator, and Cancun Mayor Juan Ignacio Garcia, who's running under a PRD and Worker's Party alliance. The state is also choosing 25 local congressional seats and five mayors.

The Pacific state Baja California Sur is governed by the PRD. The party's Narciso Agundez Montano leads in the governor's race against the PRI's Radomiro Amaya and the PAN's Luis Alberto Coppola.


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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