Mexican leftist leader heads to US to challenge Trump
Mexico's leftist leader Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, seen in 2013, says Mexicans are being "perscuted" in American political rhetoric

Mexican leftist 2018 presidential hopeful Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador plans to visit the United States on Sunday to talk with migrants and Americans about US President Donald Trump's "poisonous" rhetoric.

Lopez Obrador, who is leading in opinion polls for next year's elections, told the daily El Universal in an interview published on Thursday that Trump has shown a lack of respect for Mexico.

"This campaign -- because it is very poisonous -- of xenophobia, of causing hate, must be confronted," said the two-time presidential election runner-up.

"We, Mexicans, are being persecuted. It's all a political strategy, so I will go to the United States precisely because of this," said Lopez Obrador, who is scheduled to arrive in Los Angeles on Sunday afternoon.

"I will talk to business owners and migrants of the world, but I am also very interested in speaking with Americans."

Trump's vow to make Mexico pay for a border wall has angered Mexicans and sparked patriotic pride in America's southern neighbor.

Lopez Obrador criticized President Enrique Pena Nieto, who defeated him in the 2012 election, for inviting Trump to Mexico when the Republican billionaire was still on the White House campaign trail in August.

The leader of the National Regeneration Movement said Trump must be confronted "with respect, but firmly."

Lopez Obrador led conservative politician Margarita Zavala and Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, of the ruling party, in an election poll published by the daily Reforma late last year.

Pena Nieto is constitutionally barred from running for re-election.