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Monday, 27 December, 1999, 05:01 GMT
Guatemala votes for 'killer'

Alfonso Portillo Alfonso Portillo: Heading for a landslide victory


By central America correspondent Peter Greste

Guatemala's President Alvaro Arzu has declared the opposition candidate, Alfonso Portillo, as the country's next national leader.

Early official results from Guatemala's presidential election suggest Mr Portillo has won a landslide victory, with more than 62% of the vote.


Iscar Berger Oscare Berger: Accepted defeat
It is the first presidential election since the country ended a brutal 36-year civil war three years ago.

Guatemalans appear to have voted for change.

Mr Portillo, of the right-wing Guatemalan Republican Front, claimed victory and President Arzu acknowledged his party's defeat late on Sunday in the historic poll to choose the country's first post-war leader.

He beat the ruling party candidate, Oscar Berger, who has been tied to the current government's failure to improve the lives of the nation's under-privileged.

Mr Portillo is a charismatic former university professor who relied on popular discontent with rising crime and unemployment and deepening poverty.

During the campaign, he stunned the country by admitting that he had killed two people in Mexico in 1982 before fleeing the country to escape trial.

Rather than hiding from the issue, he turned it into a vote-winner by adopting the slogan 'a man who can defend his own life can defend yours'.

Linked to dictator

If the results are confirmed by the final count, Mr Portillo will take on the presidency in about three weeks time.

But the victory is also likely to stir controversy abroad. The secretary-general of Mr Portillo's party is Efrain Rios Montt, one of the country's most brutal military dictators.

He was responsible for some of its worst human rights abuses and has been the target of much criticism from international human rights groups.

Some observers, including the Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu, fear that Mr Portillo's victory may see a return to some of the bloody practices of the past.

But the new president-elect insists that he is committed to the peace accords which ended the Guatemalan civil war in 1996

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See also:
07 Nov 99 |  Americas
Guatemalan 'killer' set for top job
26 Feb 99 |  Americas
Guatemala 'genocide' probe blames state

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