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The BBC's Peter Greste in Chiapas
"For the PRI this was a bitter pill"
 real 28k

Monday, 21 August, 2000, 09:24 GMT 10:24 UK
Opposition claims victory in Chiapas
Pablo Salazar
Pablo Salazar has promised to restart peace talks
The opposition candidate for governor in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas has claimed victory in Sunday's election, saying the people had made it clear they wanted to begin a new stage of peace and reconciliation.

There is no task more important than peace and reconciliation between brothers

Pablo Salazar
The candidate, Pablo Salazar, promised to rekindle peace talks between the federal authorities and the Zapatista guerrillas who launched a rebellion six years ago in support of indigenous rights.

Official preliminary results gave Mr Salazar around 56% of the vote, while his main contender, Sami David, the candidate for the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) had secured 43%

If the final result confirms the preliminary count, it would represent another blow to the PRI, which last month lost the Mexican presidential election for the first time in 71 years.

Within hours of the polls closing, supporters of Mr Salazar filled the streets outside his campaign headquarters, tooting horns, whistling, cheering and celebrating his apparent victory.

Sunday's poll was characterised by a high turnout amid a heavy military presence.

Chiapas split

For the last six years, voters in Chiapas have endured a deepening conflict between the Zapatista rebels and their supporters on the one hand, and government troops and pro-government paramilitary units on the other.

Sami David
Sami David: The long-ruling PRI's candidate for governor
Chiapas is a state deeply divided - not just along military lines, but along social, religious and economic ones as well.

Since the Zapatistas launched their rebellion, those gulfs have widened, destroying dozens of communities and thousands of lives.

Mr Salazar and his PRI rival, Mr David, have both pledged to make solving the problem a priority in any new administration.

Heavy security

Soldier in San Andres Larraizar
The government says the heavy military presence is to maintain calm
There was a heavy military presence for Sunday's vote, particularly around the conflict zones in places like Acteal, where pro-government paramilitaries massacred 45 pro-Zapatista Indians three years ago.

The government insisted the soldiers were there to maintain calm. Its critics said the move was intended to frighten opposition supporters away from the polling booths.

Opinion polls before the vote also suggested Chiapas was ready to abandon the PRI, which has never lost control of the state before now.

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See also:

13 Jun 00 | Americas
Police ambush in Mexico
14 Feb 00 | Americas
Mexico urged to stop Chiapas patrols
02 Jul 00 | Americas
End of era for all-powerful party
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