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Zapatistas to Tour Mexico Before Election

January 1, 2006

LA GARRUCHA, Mexico (AP) _ Mexico’s Zapatista rebels are emerging from their jungle hideout for a six-month campaign tour of Mexico designed to be an ``alternative″ to this year’s already contentious presidential race.

The tour begins Sunday, on New Year’s Day, to coincide with the anniversary of a brief Zapatista uprising in the name of Indian rights 12 years ago. This time, however, the Zapatistas are not expected to wield Kalashnikov rifles and declare war when they march into the main Chiapas city of San Cristobal de las Casas, about 75 miles southwest of this village.

Instead, the ski mask-wearing Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos has promised to build a nationalist leftist movement that will ``shake this country up from below″ during a visit to Mexico’s 31 states.

Marcos has promised the movement won’t be violent, saying he will no longer be a military ``sub commander″ but a civilian known as ``Delegate Zero.″ But he said the Zapatistas won’t run for elected office or join Mexico’s mainstream political process, which he describes as corrupt and out of touch with the people.

The rebels say the national tour, which they have dubbed the ``Other Campaign″ in reference to Mexico’s July presidential election, is a third phase in the Zapatista revolution.

On Saturday in the Zapatista village of La Garrucha, pickup trucks and buses formed a line along the dirt road leading out of town in preparation for Sunday’s journey to San Cristobal.

Inside wooden huts painted with red stars and murals of ski-mask wearing rebel Indians, the Zapatistas pored over final details of their tour. Meanwhile, in the village square, men in sombreros and baseball caps drank soda while listening to Mexican folk ballads on the local Zapatista Radio Insurgente as smiling children ran about and played.

``We want to show people that we really have something to offer,″ said 45-year-old Zapatista Pedro Bautista.

Zapatista sympathizer Bertha Navarro, 60, a Mexico City film producer who flew to San Cristobal on Friday, said she sees a Zapatista-inspired movement as a way for ordinary Mexican people to get involved in politics.

``There are a lot of people in Mexico like me who are fed up with the corrupt parties and are looking for a new way of doing politics,″ Navarro said.

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