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Mexico's president says he is delivering change as promised

[MEXICO CITY] 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 fervor, the left-wing populist has radically changed the style of the presidency, ditching the presidential mansion, guards and jet.

But he 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," Lopez Obrador briefly acknowledged that "the economy is growing little," and that "we still suffer from insecurity and violence."

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However, the leader known as "AMLO," who remains widely popular nine months into his term, 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 at the National Palace, where he lives and works.

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

One of the organisers of the march, opposition politician Fernando Belauzaran, accused the president of lying to Mexicans in his daily 7.00am press conferences, which have come to dominate the national news agenda.

"He doesn't tell the truth. It's like a festival of mythomaniac tendencies every morning," he told journalists.

"Andres Manuel has deceived a lot of people who believed in him. They still haven't realised the magnitude of the mistake they made," protester Maria Jose Tam, a 34-year-old marketing specialist, told AFP.

PUMMELLED BUT POPULARĀ 

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

The president remains overwhelmingly popular: recent polls put his approval rating around 65 per cent.

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 per cent in the first quarter of 2019, and registered zero growth in the second - far from Lopez Obrador's pledge to deliver two-per cent growth this year and an average of four per cent 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.

Lopez Obrador ticked off numerous points he sees as victories.

Chief among them was reducing theft from state oil company Pemex's pipelines by 94 per cent. The booming black-market industry had been costing the country an estimated US$3 billion a year.

He also claimed a win for negotiating his way out of the crushing tariffs that US President Donald Trump had threatened to impose on Mexico if the government did not do more to stop undocumented migrants from crossing its territory to the United States.

Lopez Obrador said Mexico had dodged a "possible political and economic crisis" with the June deal, under which his government has deployed some 21,000 National Guardsmen to tighten its borders.

In a sign of his headstrong determination to do things his own way, Lopez Obrador spoke in front of a banner heralding his "Third Government Report," apparently counting two earlier speeches as numbers one and two.

Under the Mexican constitution, which establishes that the president must deliver one such address per year, it was in fact the first.

AFP