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Voters defy pre-election violence to vote in 3 Mexican states

ACAPULCO, Mexico—Defying pre-election violence, thousands of voters in this popular tourist port city stood in long lines Sunday to vote for a new governor in the Pacific Coast state of Guerrero.

Elections in Guerrero and two other states, Quintana Roo and Baja California Sur, could determine which party leads in the 2006 presidential campaign. The Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ruled Mexico for 71 years until the election in 2000 of President Vicente Fox of the conservative National Action Party, is waging a fervent crusade to win back the presidency.

Fox, who can't be re-elected, has seen his party lose ground because voters perceive he hasn't delivered on promises to clean up corruption and organized crime or improve the lives of the poor, who make up 40 million out of a population of 100 million.

Elections in the three coastline states come as candidates line up to win their parties' presidential nomination.

The PRD finished third in the last two presidential races, but it's counting on a good showing to prove it's a serious national challenger. A party win in Guerrero would be a bonanza for the PRD's populist Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a presidential hopeful.

The PRI also hopes the three states races will increase its presidential chances. Victories would strengthen party national leader Roberto Madrazo, ex-governor of the oil-rich state of Tabasco, also a presidential aspirant.

Last year, the PRI won seven of 10 governor's races.

In Guerrero, the race for governor was close between PRD's candidate, ex-Acapulco Mayor Zeferino Torreblanca, and the PRI's Hector Astudillo. Guerrero has been ruled by the PRI since its founding in 1929.

In Acapulco, voters lined up soon after polls opened at 8 a.m. Along the elegant beachside Costera Boulevard, many voters wore bathing suits. At one downtown booth, officials ran out of ballots at about 3 p.m., angering people waiting to vote.

Hundreds of police and army patrolled the city. The government issued a state of alert Saturday after assailants attacked three police stations.

The surprise assaults killed three police officers and a 15-year-old caught in the crossfire and wounded three officers. Earlier reports by authorities said five had been killed.

The left-of-center Democratic Revolutionary Party, or PRD, blamed PRI local bosses for the attacks, saying they were trying to dissuade voters because the opposition has been gaining ground. In turn, the PRI blamed the PRD.

"They wanted to kill all of us. One officer was shot in the back," said municipal police commander Maribel Angelito, showing walls riddled with bullets and the sites where the officers died. "They drove up and started firing. Why us? We haven't done anything. We're here to defend people."

Voting in Acapulco, Zeferino told reporters: "A few thugs aren't going to impede the freedom and security" of Guerrero. He praised the high voter turnout, even in remote peasant villages in the mountains.

In Quintana Roo on Mexico's southeastern coast, about 200 police officers went on strike in the tourist city of Cancun, which also is a drug trafficking area.

The PRI's Felix Gonzalez, a former Cozumel mayor, is favored to beat the PRD's Ignacio Garcia Zalvidea, previously a Green Party mayor of Cancun. Addy Joaquin Coldwell, sister of a former PRI governor, was running under Fox's National Action Party.

In Baja California Sur, home to the famed Los Cabos retreat and governed by the PRD, the PRD's Narciso Agundez appeared ahead of the PRI's Radomorio Amaya and National Action's Alberto Coppola.

Tourists paid little attention in Acapulco as residents voted. Many wanted to watch the Super Bowl by the beach, but they had to do without alcohol, because the government bans it during elections.

Bar owners in Quintana Roo begged the government to relax the rules, and they were allowed to sell beer.


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

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): MEXICO-ELECTIONS

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