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Stripped of immunity, Mexico City mayor awaits arrest

MEXICO CITY—Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, stripped of his immunity from prosecution by Mexico's Congress, said Friday that he won't return to his office and will wait at home for officials to arrest him on charges that he violated a court order to stop building a road to a hospital.

Dozens of reporters showed up early Friday at his apartment, where he customarily holds a daily 6 a.m. news conference, but the mayor took them to a nearby park to talk.

It was unclear when action would be taken against the mayor, whose immunity was lifted after an emotional debate in the Mexican Congress Thursday. Under Mexican law, prosecutors must request an arrest warrant from a judge before any action can be taken.

"My conscience is clear. Our intent is not to persecute or hurt anyone," Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha said Friday. "We're doing what the law calls for."

In the meantime, the mayor said he's taken a 30-day leave of absence. "I will go willingly to jail," he said.

Charges against the mayor could keep him from running for the presidency next year—the reason, he said, that the attorney general is pursuing charges against him in what would otherwise be considered a minor land dispute.

Polls consistently show Lopez Obrador, a member of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), leading potential presidential candidates from the National Action Party (PAN) and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). President Vicente Fox belongs to PAN; the PRI ruled Mexico for seven decades until Fox defeated its candidate in 2000. By law, Fox can't seek re-election.

If convicted, Lopez Obrador would be barred from running for president. But if he's declared innocent by Jan. 15, 2006, the deadline for registering as a presidential candidate, he could still run.

Fox, in Rome for the funeral of Pope John Paul II, hailed Congress' action. "It's an example for the world that justice prevails in Mexico," Fox said.

But PRD legislators said they intended to challenge the congressional vote in court, saying Congress didn't have authority to lift Lopez Obrador's immunity. Only the Supreme Court has that power, they said.


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

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