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Mexicans Wonder What's Next After Salinas's Quick Fast

Former president's hunger strike signals more turmoil

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FORMER President Carlos Salinas de Gortari's fast-turned-nonfast puts a bizarre twist on Mexico's deepening political turmoil.

He said he would not eat until his name is cleared in the investigation in the 1994 assassination of his hand-picked presidential candidate, and until the ''error'' of December's devaluation of the Mexican peso is recognized.

As it turned out the man who until Dec. 1 was Mexico's most powerful individual postponed the strike Friday, less than a day after starting it. But his action was enough to plunge Mexico even deeper into bewilderment over what new shockers the country's blown-open political adjustment is likely to bring.

''It's very strange,'' says Felipe Ehrenberg, a well-known political commentator here. ''Not only has [Salinas] lost any of the dignity of being a former president, but he's added to the incredible rumor mill that has everyone wondering what's coming next.''

Mr. Salinas's action is a symptom of a sudden rupture in the Mexican system, at least as old as the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI), celebrating its 66th year in power this week. Business affairs or any wrongdoing of a former president, his family and associates, were off limits to a new adminstration.

Change of guard

The end was signaled with the arrest Tuesday of Salinas's brother, Raul Salinas de Gortari, for allegedly masterminding the assassination last September of PRI's No. 2 and determined reformer Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu.

That arrest led to speculation that the former president acted to stymie investigations into the Ruiz Massieu killing and the assassination last March of PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio.

But by the weekend, the Attorney General's office issued a statement saying it had turned up no such evidence in its search.

While Salinas was left looking desperate, President Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon was clearly fortified by the arrest. A huge pro-Zedillo demonstration in Mexico City's Constitution Square Friday testified to the rallying power of the Mexican presidency.

''It is time we accept, without exception, that the law is above all, and we must all be subject to it, the governors and the governed,'' he said Thursday in Tlaxcala, Mexico. ''We can see, we can feel, we have a president!'' the crowd chanted in return.

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