President Enrique Peña Nieto led the celebration of the 203rd anniversary of Mexico's independence from Spain.

Peña Nieto participated in the traditional ceremony from the balcony of the National Palace for the first time on Sunday night.

The president, accompanied by first lady Angelica Rivera, gave the "Grito," the traditional Independence Day rallying cry, around 11:00 p.m. as the tens of thousands of people in Mexico City's huge Zocalo plaza cheered.

The ritual of the Grito, one of the most important for Mexicans, consists of national, state and municipal officials shouting "viva" for the heroes of the War of Independence and for Mexico.

The ceremony commemorates Father Miguel Hidalgo's rallying cry early on the morning of Sept. 16, 1810, in the city of Dolores Hidalgo, in the central state of Guanajuato, the birthplace of the independence movement.

Mexico finally won its independence from Spain in 1821.

Peña Nieto appeared on the balcony holding a Mexican flag, rang the bell to mark the hour and began shouting the traditional "vivas."

At least 70,000 people turned out for the ceremony despite the heavy rains that drenched the capital on Sunday, officials said.

Many of the people in the huge plaza wore traditional costumes and hats.

The president returned the flag to an honor guard after the ceremony and then reappeared on the balcony with the first lady and their five children to wave at the crowd.

Peña Nieto, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, took office on Dec. 1.

The independence ceremony ended with the traditional fireworks display and ringing of bells.

The governors of Mexico's 31 states also participated in ceremonies at which they shouted the "Grito" to citizens gathered in plazas.

The independence celebrations will continue on Monday with a military parade in Mexico City.

The Zocalo was occupied by teachers protesting education reforms until Friday, when police cleared them out of the plaza.

Many of the protesters are now camped out at the Monument to the Revolution in downtown Mexico City.

The Zocalo, Mexico's largest plaza, was cleaned in record time for the independence celebration.

The independence celebrations are normally a family affair in Mexico, with people enjoying traditional dishes, such as pozole, a type of stew, and tamales. EFE