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Election ends PRI's 75-year dominance in Mexican state

ACAPULCO, Mexico—The newly elected leftist governor of Mexico's Guerrero state, fresh from handing a resounding defeat to the political party that had ruled here for the last 75 years, vowed Monday to push investigations into 30-year-old political crimes and to sweep out corrupt officials.

"When I sit on the gubernatorial chair, I'm going to clean house," Zeferino Torreblanca told Knight Ridder in an interview at his campaign headquarters. "We will obliterate our dark history and start with a clean slate."

Torreblanca, the candidate of the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party, or PRD, trounced his opponent from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI, 55 percent to 42 percent.

The victory is considered critical not just to local politics but also to the 2006 election campaign to select Mexico's next president.

Results from the Sunday vote were announced early Monday.

The 50-year-old former accountant, business leader and former mayor of Acapulco could barely contain his glee, breaking into a Beatles song in response to a question about his age: "Will you still love me, will you still want me when I am 64?"

He takes office on April 1 for a six-year term but said, "I'm no magician."

Still, his victory elated leftists and impoverished farmers who live in the state's jagged mountains and remote villages and who have complained for years of abuse at the hands of PRI-sponsored political bosses, police and army troops.

Guerrero, with 4 million inhabitants, is among Mexico's poorest regions and has been a source of political unrest for four decades, giving birth to rebel leader Lucio Cabanas, who's still revered here 30 years after government soldiers killed him in a shootout.

Of the 532 people the National Human Rights Commission identified as disappearing at the hands of government officials in the 1960s and 1970s, about a third came from Guerrero.

Human rights groups hope Torreblanca's victory will boost a lackluster probe by a special prosecutor appointed in 2002 to investigate the disappeared of Mexico's so-called dirty war.

"We're sure that the success of democratic forces will open a door for a real investigation," the Association of Families of Disappeared People said in a statement.

Torreblanca said he would push for governmental financial compensation for families of missing insurgents or suspected rebels.

"You can't bring people back, but there's got to be a budget to help these victims, intensify the investigation and bring the guilty to justice," he said.

Torreblanca's election is being compared to the momentous 2000 election of National Action Party (PAN) candidate Vicente Fox, who ousted the PRI after 71 years in the presidency and then appointed a special prosecutor to investigate dirty-war disappearances.

Workers from that prosecutor's office in Atoyac, home to Cabanas, feared a PRI win would have hurt their investigations, and some said they feared for their lives.

Torreblanca's victory also was seen as a boost to the PRD's popular Mexico City mayor, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, in his expected campaign to follow Fox into the presidency.

Lopez Obrador consistently leads opinion polls as the leading presidential candidate, but the PRI-dominated Congress is threatening to impeach him, an action that would prevent him from running for higher office.

The PRI didn't immediately concede defeat.

Outgoing Gov. Rene Juarez said, "We have to respect the decision of the people in this democratic endeavor, but we'll reserve comment until final results of electoral officials."

The State Electoral Institute is to release final figures Thursday, but its office of Official Preliminary Results said there's little doubt that the final figures will confirm the preliminary figures released shortly after midnight Monday.

Thousands of people poured into plazas throughout the state in the early-morning hours, shouting and dancing.

The run-up to the vote had been tense. Heavily armed men killed three policemen and a teenager in three separate attacks on police stations in Acapulco on Saturday in what some said were efforts to intimidate voters, but which the authorities said probably were unrelated to the election.

"People here are tough. They don't scare us, even with hails of bullets," said grocery store worker Felipe Domingo Perez. "We're fed up with the mafia that has run this state."


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

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

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