Mexico crime wave hits Calderon's approval rating

MEXICO CITY, Sept 1 Mon Sep 1, 2008 11:46am EDT

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MEXICO CITY, Sept 1 (Reuters) - Mexican President Felipe Calderon's approval rating slipped to 62 percent in a newspaper poll on Monday as the government struggled to break a wave of violent crime and control an inflation spike.

Calderon, who only narrowly won the presidential election in 2006, saw his rating in the Reforma newspaper move down slightly from 64 percent in June and 65 percent a year ago.

More than 150,000 Mexicans joined protest marches across the country on Saturday to protest a wave of gruesome murders and kidnappings.

A fierce war between rival drug gangs battling for smuggling routes has killed more than 2,300 people so far this year and there has also been a surge in violent crime.

Calderon has deployed more than 25,000 troops and federal police against the drug cartels since taking office in December 2006, but killings have increased.

The poll showed Mexicans feel Calderon's worst failings are on crime and the economy, as higher international food prices have driven Mexico's inflation rate to a five-year high.

Mexico's economy is also losing steam as a U.S. slowdown crimps demand for its exports. The economy is expected to expand 2.4 percent this year, down from 3.2 percent in 2007.

In his most ambitious political push yet as president, Calderon is trying to persuade opposition lawmakers to overhaul Mexico's energy industry to shore up flagging oil production by allowing limited participation by foreign companies.

State oil monopoly Pemex is a prized symbol of sovereignty to many Mexicans, and Calderon's leftist opponents accuse him of trying to privatize the firm.

The Reforma poll was carried out among 1,515 people nationwide on Aug. 16 and 17 and had a margin or error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points, Reforma said. (Reporting by Noel Randewich; Editing by Kieran Murray)

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