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Last Updated: Monday, 10 November, 2003, 17:08 GMT
Press hails Guatemala voters
Voters line up outside a polling station in Guatemala
Ensuring democracy works

Leading newspapers in Guatemala are delighted at the results of Sunday's elections, which leave the two leading contenders heading for a run-off decider on 28 December.

Despite numerous reports of electoral irregularities in the pages of Siglo Veintiuno and Prensa Libre, they both praise the Guatemalan people for demonstrating their determination to cement democracy in a coup-prone country.

"Beautiful triumph of democracy!", cries the bold headline of an editorial in Siglo Veintiuno.

There is one overwhelming winner - the Guatemalan people
Siglo Veintiuno

"With considerable devotion and despite the threats of violence overshadowing the day, Guatemalans turned out en masse at the polls to write a beautiful page in the nation's history of civic pride and democratic vocation."


The paper writes that at one stage, it seemed that over 1.5 million voters looked like being disenfranchised due to diverse irregularities, but both the electorate and Supreme Electoral Tribunal "showed their maturity to overcome the problems".

"It doesn't matter who is the victor - there is one overwhelming winner - the Guatemalan people."

But Siglo Veintiuno also warns of the danger that "there are those intent on undermining the limpid victory of this historic day" and calls on the people to "remain vigilant".

The Guatemalan people have proved they know how to play the democratic game
Prensa Libre

Reports in both papers highlight problems as diverse as the burning of ballot boxes and intimidation, individuals seeking to vote several times, the stuffing of ballot boxes with fraudulent ballot papers, failures in the registration of bona fide electors, power failures and much more.

However, like its competitor, Prensa Libre also praises Guatemalans for their "sense of civic pride" which overcame the numerous obstacles, "showing the country to be a place where democracy is becoming stronger with every passing day".

"In spite of everything the Guatemalan people have proved they know how to play the democratic game."

Prensa Libre quotes the head of a delegation of the Organisation of American States, Valentin Paniagua, as hailing the high turnout, saying "it shows the people are keen to defend their democracy".

The paper says the results of the election came as no surprise, as opinion polls had forecast a run-off for the presidency between Oscar Berger and Alvaro Colom.

General's future in doubt

Mr Berger might be disappointed in the result, given that Sunday's edition of La Hora quoted him as saying he would "prefer a second round with the general", the third placed General Efrain Rios Montt.

The people have spoken - NO to General Efrain Rios Montt!
Siglo Veintiuno

According to Siglo Veintiuno, Mr Rios Montt's future is in doubt following his rejection as president.

"The myth of the general has collapsed" says the paper. "The people have spoken at the urns - NO to General Efrain Rios Montt!"

Noting the general is implicated in cases of human rights abuses dating from his time as military ruler following a coup in 1982, the paper says his defeat "leaves him without the parliamentary immunity which has been impeding the case against him".

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

The BBC's Michael Voss
"Election observers say turnout was high"

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