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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 March, 2004, 23:47 GMT
El Salvador votes for president
Bus carrying the face presidential candidate Schafik Handal
Handal pledges work, health and education without privatisation
Counting is under way in the presidential election in El Salvador - with the battle for leadership drawn sharply along political lines.

On the left is the communist ex-guerrilla commander Schafik Handal.

On the right is conservative Tony Saca, tipped in pre-election polls as the narrow favourite to win.

Initial reports suggested an unusually high turnout for the election, with many arriving at polling stations before they opened.

"I came to vote so that there is a change," one woman told the Associated Press news agency.

"I came early because the poor have to work."

Left versus right

It is 12 years since the end of the bitter civil war, in which 75,000 people were killed.

Presidential candidate Tony Saca
Saca says his party is effective and business-like
The people of El Salvador now have to decide whether to stick with Mr Saca's right-wing Arena Party, which has won the last three elections.

Ex-sports television presenter Mr Saca told the BBC that a swing to the left would destroy all the progress that El Salvador has made in the decade since the conflict ended.

He says that the transformation of the left and right has not been equal.

The right is now effective, clear and business-like, but on the left, the personalities who waged the war are the same people who are involved in politics today.

The bearded 73-year-old Mr Handal has exchanged the fatigues he once wore as a guerrilla commander for a politician's shirt and tie.

He has pledged to normalise foreign relations with Cuba, pull Salvadorian troops out of Iraq and renegotiate the Central American Free Trade Agreement if elected president.

He says that he is going to change El Salvador into a place where there is work and education and a public health system for everybody without privatising it.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Claire Marshall
"The country is split down the old fault lines"



SEE ALSO:
Left claims El Salvador victory
17 Mar 03  |  Americas
Country profile: El Salvador
16 Mar 04  |  Country profiles
Timeline: El Salvador
02 Jan 04  |  Country profiles


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