Graft allegations dominate final presidential debate in Mexico

This picture provided by the National Electoral Institute shows presidential candidates (left to right) Ricardo Anaya, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Jose Antonio Meade and Jaime Rodriguez (AFP Photo/HO)
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Mexico City (AFP) - Mexico's presidential candidates traded accusations of corruption Tuesday in a hard-fought final debate ahead of the July 1 election.

The three trailing candidates took turns attacking the leftist front-runner, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, and also lashed out at each other.

"Andres Manuel, you've become what you so often criticized," second-place candidate Ricardo Anaya of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) told Lopez Obrador.

He accused the two-time presidential runner-up, who has campaigned as ardently anti-graft, of abandoning his principles to hand sweetheart government contracts to cronies when he was Mexico City mayor, from 2000 to 2005.

"I'm not corrupt like you," retorted Lopez Obrador, who has around half the vote heading into the single-round race, according to the latest opinion polls.

"If I show you the contracts, will you withdraw your candidacy?" Anaya fired back, repeating the question three times.

Anaya, a former speaker of Congress, also attacked his nearest rival, third-place candidate Jose Antonio Meade of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

"When I'm president, I'm going to see to it you have your day in court. You, Jose Antonio Meade, and your boss, (outgoing President) Enrique Pena Nieto," he said.

"The only one here accused of any crime is Ricardo," replied ex-finance minister Meade, referring to money-laundering allegations that have dogged Anaya, and which the latter says were fabricated by the government.

In a country exasperated with a constant stream of corruption scandals, Lopez Obrador has deftly tapped voters' anger with the PRI and PAN, the parties that have governed Mexico since 1929 -- leaving his rivals scrapping to follow suit.

Lopez Obrador -- widely known by his initials, AMLO -- largely remained above the fray, as in the first two debates.

"It's not my fault you're all in a tie for the bottom," he said in response to his rivals' attacks. "I know you're desperate, but calm down."

Independent candidate Jaime "El Bronco" Rodriguez, a colorful rancher-turned-governor, meanwhile caused internet titters with a pledge to create a Mexican FBI -- the "Facebook Bronco Investigation," in which citizen whistleblowers would report crimes via social media.

During the first debate, Rodriguez vowed to amputate thieves' hands to deal with rampant crime -- a proposal met with a flood of memes online.

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