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Monday, 27 May, 2002, 04:52 GMT 05:52 UK
Hardliner elected Colombian president
Uribe won more than half the votes cast
Colombia's presidential election has been won by a right-winger who has pledged to re-conquer the half of the country under the control of left-wing guerrillas and other paramilitaries.

Alvaro Uribe, a 49-year-old lawyer, won a landslide victory on an independent ticket, securing more than 53% of the vote and avoiding the need for a run-off.

Uribe supporters
Uribe has been given a powerful mandate for his defence spending plans
It is the first time in the country's history that an outright victory has been won in the first round of voting.

In his victory speech in the capital Bogota, Mr Uribe said he was prepared to talk peace with illegal armed groups of left and right, but they had to lay down their weapons.

"They have wasted many opportunities for peace. They will always have opportunities," he said.

As an independent candidate, Mr Uribe has ended the stranglehold the traditional liberal and conservative parties have held on Colombian politics since independence from Spain in 1819.

His nearest rival, Horacio Serpa, of the Liberal Party, attracted 31% of the vote. He conceded defeat and resigned as leader of his party.

Conciliatory note

Mr Uribe's landslide victory is nothing short of an overwhelming endorsement for his plans to increase military spending and broaden the 38-year-old civil war, according to the BBC's Peter Greste in Bogota.

Colombian army soldier
More than 200,000 soldiers and police were deployed for the vote

But he says that Mr Uribe struck an unexpectedly conciliatory note in his victory speech, calling for international mediation to kick-start negotiations with the country's rebel groups.

So far though, our correspondent adds, neither the rebels or Mr Uribe have given any hint they are willing to compromise, and peace looks further away than ever.

Mr Uribe also used his victory speech to recall the 1983 killing of his father by left-wing guerrillas, as well as the kidnapping three months ago of presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and the thousands of people still held hostage by rebel movements.

He promised that his government would provide "democratic security for all".

Rebel attacks

Sunday's election saw more than 200,000 troops and police deployed to protect voters amid allegations of intimidation.

Andres Pastrana
Outgoing President Andres Pastrana's peace talks with the rebels collapsed
Election officials said polling went smoothly at most stations, with much of the predicted violence from left-wing guerrillas failing to materialise.

But there were some isolated incidents, mainly in the rebel-dominated south of the country.

Left-wing guerrillas from Colombia's biggest rebel group - the FARC - rigged some vehicles with explosives in an attempt to intimidate voters.

And a woman died in a rebel attack on an electoral office in the north-west of the country.

But the National Registrar's office in Bogota said the FARC caused difficulties in fewer than 10 of 1,000 municipalities.

Mr Uribe suspended most of his pre-election appearances after a bomb, thought to have been planted by the FARC, killed four bystanders and nearly killed him on a campaign trip to the coastal town of Barranquilla.

There were also claims that right-wing paramilitary groups were putting pressure on people to vote for Mr Uribe, while harassing and intimidating the campaigns of rival candidates.

US support

Of the two leading contenders, Mr Uribe was without doubt the favoured candidate of the United States.

His crusade against Colombia's illegal armies, who are funded by drug money, will be supported by US President George W Bush.

The US Ambassador to Colombia, Anne Patterson, went to Mr Uribe's campaign headquarters at a Bogota hotel to congratulate him even before the final result was announced.

"Colombia and the US have many big issues to deal with - drug trafficking, human rights and the fight against terrorism," she said.

"We're ready to work with the next government."

The BBC's David Willis
"He has survived no fewer than 15 assassination attempts"

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