Former leftist presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has launched a national campaign in southern Mexico "in defense of the petroleum industry" and against any privatization plans included in the energy reform plan to be debated by Congress this year, the National Regeneration Movement, or Morena, said.

The two-time presidential candidate told supporters in the city of Juchitan that the "gang of criminals, who misgovern the country, have a plan to steal, to take, the petroleum that belongs to the people and the nation," Lopez Obrador's press team said in a statement.

Lopez Obrador, who organized Morena as a political organization that aspires to become a party, called on his supporters to prepare to fight to stop the privatization of state-owned oil giant Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, which has a monopoly over the production of crude and distribution of gasoline.

Mexico has a "regime of corruption" under which producing a barrel of crude costs $10, but it is sold at $100, yielding a profit of $90 per barrel, Lopez Obrador said.

"If the country pumps 2.6 million barrels per day, it means that you are getting $260 million daily, so the oil leaves you with $100 billion a year and that is what they are going after now," Lopez Obrador said.

The big winners of oil reforms will be foreign oil companies, which will get "juicy contracts" as "partners" of Pemex, the leftist politician said.

Lopez Obrador barely lost the 2006 presidential election and blamed his second-place finish in last year's vote on corrupt practices by the victorious Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

Lopez Obrador announced recently that the "El petroleo es de todos" (The Petroleum Is Everyone's) campaign would hold protests across Mexico in coming months.

President Enrique Peña Nieto said last month that Pemex would not be privatized and the public should be wary of those who sought to "mislead or confuse" the issue.

Pemex, the world's No. 4 oil producer with output of about 2.5 million barrels per day, is the biggest contributor to Mexico's Treasury. EFE