Bishops urge Mexicans to vote in July

Mexico City, Mexico - Mexico's Roman Catholic Church on Monday urged voters to participate in the July 2 presidential election and asked the candidates to run clean campaigns.

In an ad published in national newspapers, Mexican Bishop's Conference said the elections "represent an opportunity and a challenge to consolidate the significant advances" of the country's young democracy. Mexico was ruled by a single party for 71 years until President Vicente Fox's election in 2000.

The bishops urged voters to analyze the five candidates' proposals before casting their ballots and vote with "wisdom." The bishops also called on Mexico's patron saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe, to oversee the elections.

The ad ran a week after watchdog groups said the country's historically fragile separation of church and state was threatened by Fox's close ties to the Catholic Church and recent efforts by priests to influence voters.

The Ecclesiastical Observatory, comprising several organizations including Catholics for the Right to Decide and the Center for Ecumenical Studies, distributed pamphlets at 150 Catholic parishes nationwide Sunday reminding churchgoers of their right to vote independently.

Fox's conservative National Action Party is known for strong links to the church, and Fox and administration officials such as Interior Secretary Carlos Abascal have been criticized for making public religious gestures and statements.

Monday's ad was the first of its kind in these elections.