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Charges against Mexico City mayor dropped

MEXICO CITY—The Mexican federal attorney general on Wednesday dropped criminal charges against Mexico City Mayor Manuel Andres Lopez Obrador, the country's most popular politician, and cleared the path for his 2006 presidential run.

The mayor had been accused of violating a March 14, 2001, court order to stop building a hospital road, but the attorney general's office said in a statement that it couldn't proceed with its investigation because the law was unclear as to whether a sentence was warranted even after conviction. Without a sentence, there's no crime, it said.

The government's original decision to prosecute Lopez Obrador, 51, followed by a massive public protest and eventual government retreat in the case, has boosted the mayor's presidential bid enormously and reinforced his position as the clear early front-runner.

The case against the mayor also was causing President Vicente Fox's popularity to plummet.

The decision to drop the case came a week after Fox accepted the resignation of former Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha, a brigadier general who convinced Congress to strip him of the political immunity normally granted elected officials.

Critics had accused Fox of trumping up the case to get rid of a powerful adversary, although Fox is barred by law from running for the presidency again.

Fox replaced Macedo with Daniel Cabeza de Vaca Hernandez and told the new attorney general to "exhaustively" review the evidence against Lopez Obrador.

The prosecutor's office said it was "satisfied" that the mayor was guilty, but that it couldn't file charges because "the law doesn't explicitly state whether the accusation establishes a penal sanction" under the constitution.

Lopez Obrador had accused Fox's administration and other political adversaries of conspiring to keep him from the presidential race because of his leftist agenda. The mayor is with the Democratic Revolutionary Party, known as the PRD.

Under most interpretations of Mexican laws, he couldn't run for office if he faced criminal charges, which became possible after he was stripped of political immunity on April 1.

After losing immunity, the mayor's large national network of supporters staged protests and plastered the capital and much of the nation with stickers and banners condemning the case as political foul play.

On Sunday, the mayor's popularity was evident at a rally that brought out about 1.2 million people to the heart of Mexico City, the giant Zocalo plaza, to call for Fox's and Macedo's resignations.

On tour in Jamaica, Fox said Wednesday that the case is "closed and resolved," and he agreed to meet with the mayor on Friday. He said they wouldn't discuss the legal case, but would talk about combating violence and improving Mexicans' health and social security.

The attorney general's statement said the decision to drop the case was "100 percent" legal. But some legal scholars speculated that dropping the charges might have legal repercussions for Macedo and other investigators.

In a radio interview later Wednesday, Lopez Obrador said the end of case was a victory not for politicians, but for the people. He said he would likely resign his mayoral post in July to begin his presidential campaign. The PRD is to choose its presidential nominee in September.

"I only want to reaffirm that I did not commit any crime nor did I disobey any authority," he added.

Marti Batres, president of the PRD in Mexico City, also welcomed the end of the case.

"They made a mistake, but they rectified it, even though they took their time," Batres said.

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

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

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