MEXICO CITY -- More than a million people overflowed Mexico City's streets Sunday to protest the prosecution of mayor and presidential hopeful Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Mexico City police estimated that 1.2 million protesters joined the so-called "March of Silence," which would make the protest the largest march for democracy in Mexican history. They wore white masks over their mouths and carried signs with the mayor's picture that read, "We are with you" and, "You're not alone."
Opinion polls have given Lopez Obrador a large lead in advance of Mexico's 2006 presidential election. Lopez Obrador advocates reducing Mexico's dependence on the United States, criticizes free trade and emphasizes creating jobs for the 40 million Mexicans who live in poverty.
However, he's been in political limbo since April 7, when Congress voted to strip him of political immunity so he could be charged in a murky land expropriation case.
Thousands of followers of Mexico City's left wing Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador fill the capital's Zocalo, or main square, April 24, 2005, during a rally to protest against his impeachment and pending prosecution for contempt of court. Protesters crammed into Mexico City's vast central square and narrow streets in the historic downtown, many waving banners condemning the legal case against Lopez Obrador. REUTERS/Daniel Aguilar
Federal Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha charges that Lopez Obrador disobeyed a March 14, 2001 court order to stop building an access road to a hospital. A conviction would torpedo his presidential campaign, and delays in the case could prevent him from registering as the Democratic Revolutionary Party's (PRD) presidential candidate before a January deadline.
The mayor denies the charge, and Macedo suffered a setback on Friday, when a judge sent charges of abuse of authority back to the attorney general, who said he would refile the case.
The huge, peaceful rally on a sunny, hot Sunday suggested that the mayor's political momentum is growing, at least for now. His only rival for the PRD nomination, party founder Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, joined farmers in straw hats, middle-class workers, wealthy families with balloon-carrying children and PRD lawmakers.
Led by the mayor, they met at the golden statue of the Angel of Independence in downtown Mexico City's wide Reforma Avenue and joined thousands of other protesters at the city's main plaza, the Zocalo, where the mayor announced to thunderous cheers he was returning to work on Monday.
"The case is dead," enthused the mayor, who has already begun his presidential campaign in several states.
The marchers set off fireworks, confetti and waved giant banners showing President Vicente Fox of the conservative National Action Party and other political leaders in black and white striped jail suits at hearing the news. Many called for Fox to resign.
"When Fox came to office five years ago, most Mexicans thought we finally had democracy," said 33-year-old secretary Alexandra Ponce, wearing a cap with the yellow Aztec sign, the insignia for the mayor's left-of-center Democratic Revolutionary Party, or PRD.
"But his attempts to jail the mayor is obvious to all here that they're disrupting the democratic process," said Ponce, who voted in 2000 for Fox, the first opposition leader in 71 years.
Fox has said the case isn't political, but a legal procedure to show that he meant it when he said that no one was above the law.
Most people interviewed on Sunday, however, said the case against Lopez Obrador is a political plot to prevent him from running for president, and that Fox and the majority Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, had conspired against the mayor.
© 2005 KR Washington Bureau and wire service sources