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Mexico's New Presidents Bows Era of Reform in Next Century

By Mark Fineman
Los Angeles Times
MEXICO CITY

To the applause of world leaders, Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon assumed the green, white and red sash of the Mexican presidency Thursday and, in his first presidential address, declared a crusade against the violence, poverty, corruption and injustice that litter Mexico's path to the next century.

Facing deep political uncertainty, public insecurity and pockets of crushing poverty, Zedillo told Mexico's newly elected legislature in a nationally aired speech that he will continue free-market reforms. But he promised an aggressive jobs-creation program, plans to help small and medium businesses "as never before," and an unprecedented effort to educate all Mexicans through high school.

Amid lingering skepticism from opposition leaders and an angry protest by thousands of peasants calling for civil insurrection, the 42-year-old Yale-educated economist also vowed to usher in a new era of political pluralism and reform.

Zedillo, a Mexicali shoeshine boy who rose to the highest post in the land, promised to reduce the power of the presidency and separate it for the first time from his Institutional Revolutionary Party, which has governed Mexico for 65 years. And he vowed to radically restructure a judicial system that has made corruption synonymous with the police and the courts in a nation he cast as being on the brink of historic change.

As he outlined Mexico's new course after taking the presidential sash from outgoing president Carlos Salinas de Gortari in an emotional 15-second handshake, Zedillo also ordered immediate acceleration of official investigations into two major political assassinations.

Fueling the widespread sense of national insecurity, Zedillo said, are the yet-unsolved Sept. 28 killing in Mexico City of the ruling party's secretary-general, Francisco Ruiz Massieu, and the murder in Tijuana last March of Luis Donaldo Colosio, Zedillo's predecessor as the party's hand-picked presidential candidate.