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Last Updated: Monday, 2 January 2006, 22:55 GMT
Mexico welcomes Zapatistas' tour
Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos
The Zapatista leader wants to be known as "Delegate Zero"
Mexico's government has welcomed a nationwide political tour by the Zapatista rebel movement, saying it will boost the county's democracy.

A spokesman for Mexico's president made the comments as the Zapatistas arrived in the southern city of San Cristobal de las Casas to address local groups.

The Zapatistas' masked leader, Marcos, has pledged to tour all of Mexico's 31 states ahead of presidential elections.

The group will head from San Cristobal into the Yucatan peninsula.

We will listen to people in the places where they work, in the places where they are exploited, where they suffer racism
Zapatista leader
A spokesman for Mexican President Vicente Fox said the Zapatistas' decision to launch the so-called Other Campaign showed the group's determination to contribute to political debate within Mexico.

"It is an achievement of Mexican democracy and Mexican democracy guarantees the free expression of these ideas," Ruben Aguilar said.

"In that sense, it is recognised that the Zapatistas intend, through the political route, to make their points of views and ideas known."

'We will listen'

Marcos says he now wants to be known as Delegate Zero instead of using his more familiar military-style title of Subcomandante.

He led the Zapatistas into San Cristobal de las Casas on New Year's Day on his motorbike called Light-Shadow.

Thousands of rebels and supporters gathered in San Cristobal, in the Zapatista heartland of Chiapas, on Sunday night.

Marcos addressed crowds ahead of the first day of talks with indigenous groups and non-governmental organisations on Monday.

"We will listen to people in the places where they work, in the places where they are exploited, where they suffer racism," he told supporters.

Although his identity officially remains secret, Mexico's government says it has identified Marcos as a former university lecturer.

Twelve years on

The Zapatistas rose to prominence in 1994 when Marcos lead an armed uprising in Chiapas, occupying several towns before retreating into the highlands.

Since then the group has campaigned for greater rights for Mexico's indigenous communities.

The country's central government has granted effective autonomy in several areas of southern Mexico.

Marcos and other Zapatista commanders have vowed that the new campaign will help create a national movement that will "turn Mexico on its head" in an election year.

However, the group has criticised mainstream politicians, and insists it will not campaign for elected office.

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