Mexico presidential favorite puts himself at heart of security plan

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The left-wing frontrunner to win this year’s Mexican presidential election said on Thursday that he would personally take a central role in restoring order after years of violence that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

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Sketching out his plans to end the bloodletting, former Mexico City mayor and presidential contender Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador presented a team of security advisers that drew both on previous governments and the private sector.

He said he wanted to create more opportunities for the rural population in order to disincentivize crime, adding that the military-led approach in place for the past 11 years needed to end.

“You can’t fight fire with fire,” he said.

If elected president, the 64-year old Lopez Obrador would also become Supreme Commander of Mexico’s armed forces.

Fueled by battles between rival drug gangs, murders in Mexico spiked to a record high last year, dashing President Enrique Pena Nieto’s pledge to get violence under control and hitting his party’s popularity.

Harking back to his experience as mayor from 2000 to 2005, Lopez Obrador said he would hold daily meetings “from an early hour” with the heads of the armed forces, the attorney general and interior minister to discuss security.

He did not address the contentious suggestion he has made of exploring an amnesty for criminal gangs, leaving that to aide Alfonso Durazo, who he has tapped as his head of public security.

Durazo suggested any amnesty might apply for farmers growing illicit crops rather than providing a way out for cartel bosses.

“Nobody is talking about negotiating with El Mencho, or any of the others,” Durazo said, referring to Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, known as “El Mencho,” who allegedly heads a major cartel.

He also said Lopez Obrador would seek to root out corruption.

“We can’t resolve the problem of lawlessness if we don’t fix the corruption problem first, both in the federal government and particularly in the security forces,” Durazo told reporters.

Durazo is a former aide to ex-President Vicente Fox of the center-right National Action Party (PAN), who broke the longstanding hold on power of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) with his 2000-2006 administration.

Prior to that, Durazo worked closely with the PRI and he split with Fox in 2004, then moved leftward politically.

Fox’s former head of public security, Alejandro Gertz, was also among the team presented by Lopez Obrador, as was Marcos Fastlicht, a businessman and father-in-law of Emilio Azcarraga, chairman of broadcaster Grupo Televisa.

Lopez Obrador repeated pledges to create a “national guard” and revive the ministry of public security which the PRI scrapped in 2012. He said he would present a detailed security plan before the election.

Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz, Editing by Dave Graham and Rosalba O’Brien