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Mexico's AMLO doubles down on stump speech in key address

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Mexico City (AFP)

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador brushed off problems including a stagnant economy and spiralling violence to insist Sunday in his first state of the nation address that he is delivering the "transformation" he promised.

Elected last year in a swell of anti-establishment sentiment, the left-wing populist has radically changed the style of the presidency -- ditching the presidential mansion, guards and jet -- but has struggled to deliver on key promises, including economic growth and an end to rampant violence fueled by drug trafficking.

In his first annual "Government Report," the leader known as "AMLO" briefly acknowledged that "the economy is growing little," and that "we still suffer from insecurity and violence."

But he devoted much of his address to rehashing his campaign stump speech, heavy on anti-corruption, austerity-crusading rhetoric and finger-pointing at the leaders of the past.

"The essence of our approach is to turn honesty and austerity into a way of life and a form of government," he said.

"Nothing has harmed Mexico worse than the dishonesty of its leaders. That is the main cause of social and economic inequality, of the violence from which we suffer."

In a sign of the polarizing nature of his presidency, some 2,500 protesters marched down Mexico City's main avenue, Paseo de la Reforma, chanting "Get out, Lopez Obrador!"

But the opposition remains badly fragmented from the July 2018 elections, which Lopez Obrador and his upstart party, Morena, won in a landslide.

Nine months in, the president remains overwhelmingly popular: recent polls put his approval rating around 65 percent.

Many Mexicans like his folksy style -- a break with the elite ruling class of the past -- and most appear willing to wait for him to deliver concrete results.

The question is how long.

Latin America's second-largest economy shrank by 0.2 percent in the first quarter of 2019, and registered zero growth in the second -- far from Lopez Obrador's pledge to deliver two-percent growth this year and an average of four percent across his six-year term.

And the number of people murdered -- a closely watched indicator of the violence from the country's "drug war" -- appears on track to set a new record this year, with 20,135 homicides so far.

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