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Giuliani tours Mexico in effort to fight crime

MEXICO CITY — Trailed by armed guards and protected by armored vehicles, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani toured some of Mexico City’s roughest neighborhoods Tuesday, his first step in creating a plan to fight the capital’s violence and corrupt cops.

Giuliani waved off a report that Colombian rebels had been planning to kidnap him in Mexico City, and said he didn’t have any recommendations yet for changes.

“This is still the beginning of a long process,” he said.

The surprise two-day visit was Giuliani’s first to the city since business leaders collected $4.3 million to hire his consulting firm to help Mexico City put together a plan to clean up the police and crack down on crime.

Giuliani said city police leaders appear dedicated to cleaning up the city, and he was optimistic that the zero tolerance policies he used to reduce crime by 65 percent in New York City would also work in Mexico City.

“Although there are differences … the situation in some ways is very similar,” he said.

Still, Giuliani stressed that officials were learning about cultural and legal differences, and that they would tailor any plan to Mexico City’s needs.

“There are differences and you have to take account of them,” he said.

Giuliani arrived on a private plane before dawn, strolling through both rich and poor neighborhoods as the sun rose in hopes of avoiding the television cameras that soon caught up with him.

He was expected to leave Wednesday after meeting with security officials, lawmakers and the business leaders. One possibility he is looking at is raising the wages of the city’s 35,000 police officers, who make an average of 6,000 pesos ($570) a month.

Mexico City police commissioner Marcelo Ebrard said he believed Giuliani could help the city.

So far, officials have had daily telephone conversations, and four meetings in New York. Other members of Giuliani’s consulting firm have also visited the city.

The Daily News in New York reported last month that a Colombian rebel group was plotting to kidnap Giuliani during his visit to Mexico City, but he scoffed at the idea Tuesday.

“Do I look concerned?” he said, smiling. “I’m not concerned.”Some have said Giuliani is in over his head in Mexico, a city of 18 million.

Alejandro Diez, president of the city congress’ public security commission, criticized the former mayor’s neighborhood walks as “touristic strolls.” And he complained that Giuliani’s biggest achievement so far in reducing kidnappings was to hire bodyguards and have his armored cars violate traffic laws by speeding through red lights.

President Vicente Fox has pressured the city government to crack down on crime in the capital, where residents face the constant threat of theft, kidnappings and the other violence.

Police and judges are infamously corrupt, and have often been caught orchestrating kidnappings and robberies. Bribes are often used to resolve everything from a traffic ticket to homicide charges.

The drivers of the city’s green-and-white Volkswagen bug taxis sometimes kidnap passengers, holding them for days and forcing them to make withdrawals from automatic teller machines until their bank accounts are empty.

Directing traffic as Giuliani emerged from his Tuesday news conference, Patrolman Marcelino Flores grumbled that Giuliani was receiving millions of dollars for his two-day trip, while he only made $475 a month.

“The first thing Giuliani needs to do is raise salaries, the next is training,” he said. “Salaries here are way too low if they want a clean police force.”

Other residents said Giuliani was unprepared to clean up crime in a sprawling metropolis home to as many people as the state of Texas.

“You can’t compare New York to Mexico City,” said Alejandro Lagran, a taxi driver who has been kidnapped and robbed while on the job. “People there are richer and there is more control.”