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Tax hikes, organized crime dent Mexican president's approval rating

MEXICO CITY -- For the first time, more Mexicans disapprove of President Enrique Pena Nieto's performance than approve, partly because of his tax increases, according to a newspaper poll released on Sunday, the anniversary of his first year in office.

The Reforma survey of 1,020 people showed that while 48 percent disapproved of Pena Nieto's job performance, up from 30 percent in April, just 44 percent approved.

The approval figure was down from 50 percent eight months ago and marked the first time since taking office last December that it had been below the disapproval percentage.

“Just as this year has been one of reforms, the year beginning today should stand out for being the one when those reforms were well implemented,” Pena Nieto said in a speech on Sunday, addressing his first year as president.

Meanwhile, thousands, including teachers angered by Pena Nieto's education reform, marched through the streets of Mexico City to its main square where leftist former presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador held a gathering opposing the government's energy reform proposal.

Pena Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, wants to shake up the state-controlled oil and gas industry to introduce more private capital and reverse a slump in crude output, down a quarter since 2004.

The energy bill is being negotiated in Congress, with both PRI and opposing National Action Party (PAN) officials confident it will pass before the end of the year.

According to the survey, 47 percent thought Pena Nieto was handling the energy reform proposal badly, while only 27 percent backed him.

However, those surveyed mainly took issue with Pena Nieto's new tax scheme, which Mexico's Congress passed in October. The fiscal overhaul includes higher income tax rates for the wealthy as well as new levies on junk food, soft drinks and stock market gains.

The reform, signed into law by Pena Nieto, aims to raise revenue by almost 2.7 percent of gross domestic product by 2018.

There also was concern about Pena Nieto's handling of organized crime with 58 percent of those surveyed saying he was doing a bad job and 21 percent approving.

Roughly 80,000 people have died since 2007 when former President Felipe Calderon sent in the army to tame Mexico's warring cartels.

Although the murder rate has fallen slightly under Pena Nieto, about 1,000 people a month still are killed in drug-related violence while kidnapping and extortion rates have risen.

The survey, taken between Nov. 21-24, has a margin of error of 3.1 percent.

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