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Mexican president tells motorists not to panic over gasoline shortage

Patrick J. McDonnell and Cecilia Sanchez, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

MEXICO CITY -- Amid shortages of gasoline and long lines at the pumps, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Thursday that citizens should not panic, and he tried to reassure them that the availability of fuel would soon return to normal.

Motorists lined up for blocks to fill their tanks again as more and more gas stations closed because of shortages that began this week when authorities shut down certain pipelines in a concerted operation to eliminate rampant theft of fuel.

The effort is part of a major anti-corruption campaign by Lopez Obrador, who took office last month vowing to do away with institutional graft -- including the pilfering of gasoline from state-owned pipelines and tanker trucks. Fuel theft is a multibillion-dollar criminal enterprise involving organized crime and corrupt officials.

But the gas shortages have drawn fierce criticism from motorists, business leaders and opposition politicians, who say the government acted without securing sufficient alternative distribution networks.

"In some gas stations there are going to be lines," Lopez Obrador said at a news conference. "If there is gasoline available in automobile tanks, please don't go to the gas station in these days because we are in the process of normalizing the supply."

But the president would not be pinned down on a timetable as to when fuel supplies would return to normal -- even as business leaders issued warnings about the perils of prolonged shortages.

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"We are already hearing reports of concern and disquiet from companies," Juan Pablo Castanon, who heads Mexico's main business chamber, told the Milenio news outlet. "Some are beginning to envision ... economic impacts."

The shortages emerged this week in half a dozen states, including the auto-manufacturing hub of Guanajuato and the Pacific state of Jalisco, home to Guadalajara, the nation's second-most populous city.

By Wednesday, some Mexico City gas stations were experiencing long lines as word of potential shortages spread on social media and motorists rushed to fill their tanks.

"I need my car to take my children to school, to move around this city," said Martha Trejo Castano, 43, who waited for more than two hours at a station in the capital's southern Santa Catarina district. "And please don't tell me -- as the supporters of Lopez Obrador suggest -- to use public transport, because public transport in this city is a terror, with robberies, attacks on women and the like."

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