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Monday, June 22, 1998 Published at 03:43 GMT 04:43 UK

World: Americas

Pastrana takes Colombian presidency

Pastrana gives a victory salute

The opposition Conservative candidate, Andres Pastrana, has been declared the winner of Colombia's presidential election.

The result ends 12 years of Liberal Party presidents in the country.

The BBC's Richard Collings: "Pastrana has spent a decade trying to win."
The BBC South America correspondent said Mr Pastrana would now be expected to honour his promise of swift negotiations with left-wing rebel forces who control land in over half the country.

He has pledged to hold face-to-face meetings with rebel leaders as early as next week to try to end more than four decades of armed conflict in Colombia.

[ image: Serpa: dogged by party's alleged drugs links]
Serpa: dogged by party's alleged drugs links
With nearly all the votes counted, the head of Colombia's National Registration Office confirmed Mr Pastrana had officially beaten his rival Horacio Serpa from the governing Liberal Party.

Mr Pastrana, who is supported by many business people, won just over 50% of the vote. He was around five points ahead of Mr Serpa, who was the choice of outgoing President Ernesto Samper.

Our correspondent says the Liberals were harmed by allegations of links with drugs barons.

Quick count

It took less than three hours to count over 95% of all votes, although in areas affected by guerrilla violence, the final result will not be known for several days.

Our correspondent said the uncounted votes would not significantly affect the result.

Voting was cancelled in 59 towns after guerrilla attacks.

Turnout was the highest for a presidential election in years, despite some voters staying at home to watch live World Cup football coverage.

Drug allegations

The BBC's Richard Collings: "widespread intimidation in rural areas"
Mr Pastrana, a 44-year-old lawyer and the son of a former president of Colombia, has spent most of the past decade trying to win the presidency.

He lost to Mr Samper four years ago, and shortly afterwards revealed details that his rival's supporters had accepted campaign donations from drug barons.

The loser of Sunday's election, the governing Liberal Party, found it hard to shake off allegations that it is still in the pockets of the drug lords.

That ultimately led to their candidate's defeat.

Optimism expressed

[ image: Colombian voters: some stayed at home to watch World Cup]
Colombian voters: some stayed at home to watch World Cup
In his first speech as president elect, Mr Pastrana said he was happy, calm and optimistic about the job ahead.

He handled his feelings very differently to four years ago when he cried openly after losing at the first attempt.

This time Mr Pastrana told his supporters that the country had voted for change - the single word slogan he used throughout the six month election campaign.

The slogan, and Mr Pastrana's policies, have been criticised as hollow by Liberal Party rivals.

They say they are now keen to see whether he honours his promise to launch peace negotiations with left-wing guerrilla groups.

He has also promised to include more women in his cabinet - that is being interpreted as an olive branch to the independent candidate, Noemi Sanin, who gained unexpectedly large support in the first round of the elections.

Shadow of violence

[ image: Security was high during the voting]
Security was high during the voting
Mr Pastrana and Mr Serpa gained an almost equal share of the vote in the first round of the elections three weeks ago.

Mr Serpa claimed he was the only one with the experience to handle both the military and its rebel adversaries.

In recent weeks, the country's armed forces have been a powerful voice in criticising the outgoing government.

The rebels had said they would disrupt the election. Our correspondent reported that in areas away from the capital, they set buses alight and threatened to shoot dead anyone trying to cast their vote.

Before the polls opened Colombian police uncovered a massive stash of arms. It is thought they were on their way to left-wing guerrilla forces.

Around 250,000 soldiers and police officers were stationed across the country to provide security for voters.

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