Mexico swears in Pena Nieto amid protests
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MEXICO CITY -- Enrique Pena Nieto took the oath of office as Mexico's new president Saturday, vowing to restore peace and security and take on the vested interests that have hindered economic prosperity.
As several hundred protesters threw fire bombs at police and smashed plate glass windows, Mr. Pena Nieto marked the return of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, with a 13-point plan heavy on old-party populist handouts but with overhauls designed to boost the economy and modernize the education and justice systems.
"Mexico has not achieved the advances that the population demands or deserves," Mr. Pena Nieto said in an inaugural speech unusual for its heavy emphasis on policy. "It's time for us together to break the myths and paradigms and all else that has limited our development."
Inaugural events were marred all day by protesters opposed to the return of the PRI after a 12-year hiatus.
Inside and outside the congressional chambers where he took the oath of office, his opponents called his inauguration an "imposition" of a party that ruled for 71 years using a mix of handouts, graft and rigged elections. At least four demonstrators and four officers were injured as protesters clashed with tear-gas wielding police, and 65 people were detained.
Vandals smashed windows of stores, banks and a hotel and made bonfires of furniture dragged into the streets. One downtown bank office where all the windows were broken had the words "Welcome Pena" painted across the facade in green.
Mr. Pena Nieto countered with a speech full of specifics, from creating an integrated crime prevention program to ending the patronage and buying of teacher positions that rule the public education system.
He said he will put security at the center of all policies for Mexicans and their families and will work to ensure that roads and cities are again "peaceful areas where Mexicans can travel safely without fear of loss of their liberty or life."
Mexico has suffered a spike in violence since outgoing President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against organized crime upon taking office six years ago. Some 60,000 people have been killed by drug violence since then, according to some estimates. While officials first said most of the victims were involved in organized crime, the killings and kidnapping spread to innocent civilians as drug gangs came to rule entire towns and even parts of some states.
Mr. Pena Nieto turned to his usual style of result-oriented governing with the list, having started his term as governor of Mexico State with 608 projects that he promised to complete.
The tone of his speech was conciliatory, an attempt to alleviate fears about a return to the PRI's autocratic past.
"I will respect every voice," he said. "I will run an open government that speaks with honesty, seeks opinion, listens to its citizens .... I will be a president who is close to the people."
Many of his proposals harked back to the old populist PRI, promising pensions for the elderly, life insurance for single mothers to support their children through college, a program to end hunger and a new system of passenger trains.
Before he took the oath of office, leftist congressional members inside the chamber gave protest speeches and hung banners, including a giant one reading "Imposition consummated. Mexico mourns."
First Published December 2, 2012 12:00 am