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Zapatista Leader Woos Poor in his Leftist Campaign

Zapatista Leader Woos Poor in his Leftist Campaign

Associated Press

SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico — The Zapatista movement's ski-masked leader began his public meetings on Monday in a six-month national tour to form a new leftist movement, pledging to "listen to everybody" as he met with Indian groups and rights activists.

Apparently competing for the attention of Mexico's 13 million Indians, President Vicente Fox on Monday began his own tour of the country's indigenous communities.The Zapatista leader, Subcomandante Marcos, arrived at the University of the Earth, a school for Indians in a dirt-road slum on the outskirts of San Cristobal.

Accompanied by a dozen masked companions, he met with nongovernmental groups and neighborhood leaders representing poor Indians, including thousands of evangelical Protestants who were forced from their homes in the heavily Roman Catholic town of San Juan Chamula.

"We will listen to everybody," he told a crowd of more than 300 people. "We are not a government or a political party or, the worst thing in the world, a house of lawmakers."

Marcos on Sunday launched a tour of the country's 31 states, promising to form a national movement that will "turn Mexico on its head" -- a mission he timed to coincide with the 2006 presidential campaign.

He is making the trip on a black motorcycle, drawing comparisons to the socially oriented journey of the Latin American revolutionary Che Guevara in the 1950s.

Community leaders who met with Marcos on Monday said they hoped his campaign would help change the plight of poor Indians everywhere.

Fox launched what appeared to be a competing mission Monday: a weeklong tour of Indian communities based in several states.