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Monday, 12 March, 2001, 20:42 GMT
Zapatista peace talks to start
Zapatista rally, Mexico City
Thousands turned out to greet the arrival of the rebels
Mexico's Zapatista rebels are due to hold their first meeting with a congressional peace commission since the suspensions of talks in 1996.

It follows a two week tour across the country which ended with a heroes' welcome in the capital city.

More than 20 of the movement's commanders, including its head, Subcomandante Marcos, are due to meet members of the Chiapas Peace Commission on Monday.

They will discuss proposed legislation to award more autonomy to Mexico's indigenous people.

Zapatista rebel leader Subcomandante Marcos
Subcomandante Marcos is calling for more autonomy
The bill has already been sent to congress by the new government of President Vicente Fox, but the guerrillas say they will remain in the capital until their demands are met.

Earlier, a crowd of more than 100,000 had gathered in the main square, the Zocalo, to welcome the rebels in to the city.

They lined the streets chanting "Marcos, Marcos" and showered the rebels riding on a flatbed truck with flowers and confetti.

Click here for a map of the Zapatista route across Mexico

Correspondents say the Zapatistas' tour, which was designed to drum up support for to press for the rights of Mexico's indigenous people, also became a broad campaign against the effects of rampant capitalism.

In a speech packed with poetry, Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos called on the government to recognise the country's indigenous population, and to dress itself in the colours of the earth, not money.

"The hour of the Indian has come," he said.

"We are here as rebels who cry out: democracy, justice, liberty."

Dialogue welcomed

They are the first rebel group to openly ride into the capital since revolutionary leaders Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, the group's namesake, did it in 1914.

President Fox has welcomed the Zapatistas, saying their arrival was the start of a dialogue that would lead to peace.

He has offered to meet Subcomandante Marcos at his presidential palace but the rebels have not yet responded to the invitation.

President Vicente Fox
President Fox welcomes the arrival of the rebels

He said the fact that the march had taken place at all was proof that Mexican politics had been transformed since his electoral defeat of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in December last year.

President Fox, who marked 100 days in power on Saturday, has already freed dozens of prisoners and closed several military bases. But the Zapatistas have condemned the moves as nothing more than publicity stunts.

Our correspondent in Mexico City, Peter Greste says while the congress is divided and hostile to the rebels, the president backs their cause and the government will find it hard to ignore the public display of support.

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See also:

11 Mar 01 | Americas
The Zapatista tour in pictures
10 Mar 01 | Media reports
Press alarm at Zapatista arrival
01 Dec 00 | Americas
Profile: Vicente Fox
01 Dec 00 | Americas
Vicente Fox: The road ahead
03 Dec 00 | Americas
Mexico's peasant revolt
10 Mar 01 | Americas
Zapatistas reach Mexico City
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