MEXICO CITY (AP) – Felipe Calderon, protected by a scrum of sympathetic lawmakers, ignored catcalls and brawling lawmakers and rushed through the presidential oath of office in the congressional chamber Friday, a chaotic start to a term in which he pledged to heal a country divided by his narrow victory.

Later, in his first speech as Mexico’s president at the National Auditorium, Calderon offered to negotiate with leftist lawmakers who tried to block his inauguration and asked for the opportunity to win over the tens of thousands of protesters outside. But he warned rivals they wouldn’t be able to stall his government.

“I’m always ready to talk, but I won’t wait for dialogue before going to work,” the 44-year-old politician said. “The people are ready for action.”

Calderon rattled off a list of instructions to Cabinet members, telling them to slash his salary and their own, come up with a plan to overhaul the corrupt justice system, create a social net to help the country’s most vulnerable, build a competitive economy that encourages homegrown businesses and streamline the electoral system.

He promised to create jobs so millions of Mexicans don’t have to look for work elsewhere.

“Migration continues to divide our families,” he said. “Instead of leaving to work in the United States, I want to look for investment here in Mexico for our workers.”

The new president, a lawyer by training, spent most of his speech demanding a strict rule of law with no tolerance for violent protests, drug wars and kidnappings that have tarnished Mexico’s reputation and prompted Washington to warn U.S. citizens against travel south of the border.

“Laws must protect citizens, not criminals,” Calderon said. “It won’t be easy or quick. It will take time and a lot of money. But rest assured: This is a battle that I will lead.”

Taking the oath of office with a calm and steady voice above the insults and chaos surrounding him, Calderon already distinguished himself from his former boss, outgoing President Vicente Fox, who backed down in the face of similar congressional protests and delivered his last state-of-the-nation address from his office.

Calderon ignored calls to move his inauguration, appearing suddenly before lawmakers who had turned the congressional chamber into a barroom brawl. Minutes before Calderon’s arrival, lawmakers threw chairs and shoved one another to the floor to gain control of the room.

“It’s good action,” quipped California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who attended the ceremony along with former President George H.W. Bush.

Fox stood by Calderon’s side at the ceremony, then took an air force helicopter to his ranch, where he plans to retire. The first opposition president in 71 years, Fox largely disappointed voters who believed his promises of millions of new jobs and prosperity. Calderon is from the same National Action Party as Fox.

Anticipating the congressional chaos, Calderon held an unusual ceremony early Friday in which he took control of the presidential residence from Fox and swore in part of his Cabinet. That left constitutional experts puzzled over whether Mexico had a president for about nine hours. The ceremony in Congress made the debate moot.

Calderon was conciliatory during his speech at the National Auditorium, saying: “To those who voted for others, I will not ignore your causes. I ask you to let me win over your confidence.”

But his main rival, leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, said he would never recognize Calderon’s victory of less than a percentage point in the July 2 elections and blames fraud. He set up a parallel government and declared himself Mexico’s “legitimate president” last month to make Calderon’s term as difficult as possible.

“I won’t respect a thief, and I will always call him that,” Lopez Obrador told tens of thousands of cheering supporters Friday.

The turmoil of Calderon’s inauguration day was likely a preview of protests to come. Polls show that Calderon has the support of most Mexicans – and the biggest number of lawmakers in Congress – but Lopez Obrador maintains a faithful and passionate minority.

“I hope and believe that he won’t finish his six years in office,” said Juan Lule, a 50-year-old doctor staring down riot police protecting the National Auditorium.



On the Net:

Calderon’s English language Web site:

http://www.felipe.org.mx/fc/html/eng/index.htm


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