Mexico swears in president amid violent protests

Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto waves as he leaves his inauguration ceremony in the congressional chambers, in Mexico City, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012. Pena Nieto took the oath of office on Saturday, bringing the old ruling party back to power after a 12-year hiatus.
AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini

MEXICO CITY Enrique Pena Nieto took the oath of office as Mexico's new president on Saturday, promising a list of specific reforms that are part old-party populist handouts to the poor and new assaults on the entrenched systems and sacred cows that have hampered the country's development.

Pena Nieto, marking the return of the institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, promised everything from a new integrated program to prevent crime to ending the patronage and buying of teacher positions that rule the public education system and opening up broadband Internet service now dominated by just a few telecommunication monopolies.

"It's time to move Mexico and to achieve a national transformation," Pena Nieto said. "This is the moment for Mexico."

The return of the PRI after a 12-year hiatus started with violent confrontations in the streets and protest speeches from opposition parties inside the congress, where Pena Nieto took the oath of office. Protesters continued vandalizing downtown businesses, smashing plate glass windows and setting office furniture ablaze outside.

Protesters clashed with tear gas-wielding police, calling the inauguration of Pena Nieto an "imposition" of a party that ruled with a near-iron fist for 71 years using a mix of populist handouts, graft and rigged elections. At least two people were injured, one gravely, police said, and a police officer who was bleeding from the face was taken for medical treatment

Hundreds of protesters opposed to incoming Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto banged on steel security barriers and threw rocks, bottle rockets and firecrackers at police, in Mexico City, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012.
AP Photo/Marco Ugarte

Leftist congress members inside the chamber gave protest speeches and hung banners, including a giant one reading, "Imposition consummated. Mexico mourns."

One word sums up Dec. 1: The restoration. The return to the past," said Congressman Ricardo Monreal of the Citizens Movement party.

But PRI leaders denied that.

"This is a time of expectation, a time of hope," said PRI Senator Omar Fayat. "What we did well in the previous government we will preserve and strengthen. What we didn't, we will rebuild and reorient."

Pena Nieto had taken over at midnight in a symbolic ceremony after campaigning as the new face of the PRI, repentant and reconstructed after being voted out of the presidency in 2000.

Before his public swearing in later in the morning, hundreds banged on the tall steel security barriers around Congress, threw rocks, bottle rockets and firecrackers at police and yelled "Mexico without PRI!" Police responded by spraying tear gas from a truck and used fire extinguishers on flames from Molotov cocktails. One group of protesters rammed and dented the barrier with a large garbage-style truck before being driven off by police water cannons.

"We're against the oppression, the imposition of a person," said Alejandro, 25, a student and protester who didn't want to give his last name for fear of reprisals. "He gave groceries, money and a lot more so people would vote for him," the student said, referring to allegations that the PRI gave voters gifts to encourage them to cast their ballots for Pena Nieto.

Another banner inside the chamber read: "You're giving up a seat bathed in blood," referring to outgoing President Felipe Calderon's attack on organized crime and the deaths of 60,000 people during that six-year offensive by some counts.