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The BBC's Peter Greste
"The choice will be controversial abroad"
 real 28k

Monday, 27 December, 1999, 15:37 GMT
'Killer' earns landslide victory in Guatemala

Alfonso Portillo Alfonso Portillo and his wife Evelyn toast success

Self-confessed killer Alfonso Portillo has won a landslide victory in Guatemala's first presidential election since the end of the country's brutal 36-year civil war three years ago.

With 98% of the votes counted, Mr Portillo, of the opposition right-wing Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG), had secured 68% of the vote.

Oscar Berger, the candidate of President Alvaro Arzu's ruling National Advancement Party (PAN) trailed on 32%.

Oscar Berger Oscar Berger got just 32 percent of the vote

Mr Portillo, a close ally of one of the country's most brutal dictators, immediately promised to uphold the 1996 peace accords, which ended decades of conflict between the government and leftist rebels.

"All the political, economic and social changes this country needs are mandated under the peace accords," said the president-elect.

"The party that won this election is willing to jump on the train of peace."

Mr Portillo also pledged to dismantle an elite presidential security unit known as the Estado Mayor, which has been accused of committing atrocities during the civil war.

'Winds of change'

He also said that his Minister of Defence will be a civilian and not a military man as at present.

"We need an army that understands the winds of change, not an army that looms behind civilian power," said Mr Portillo.

Officials said 41% of voters had turned out to cast ballots, compared to more than 50% in the first round of voting on 7 November.

In that round, the populist lawyer fell just short of the majority he needed to win outright.

The incumbent, Mr Arzu, is constitutionally barred from running again.

Killed two people

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'.

The vote had a very clear message - the need for change
Alfonso Portillo
In his victory speech, Mr Portillo said: "This triumph is not of Alfonso Portillo. It is not of the FRG. It is of the people of Guatemala."

"We are going to start to make changes as of Jan. 14," he added, referring to inauguration day.

"The vote had a very clear message - the need for change."

Mr Berger, 53, conceded defeat in the election and congratulated his opponent.

"We respect the decision that Guatemalans have made," said Mr Berger, a former mayor of Guatemala City who quit to run for president.

Human rights abuses

Under a circus tent outside the hotel where election officials announced results, large crowds of Mr Portillo supporters sang, chanted and waved posters bearing their candidate's photo.

"Portillo is of the people," said 56-year-old Manuel de Jesus Aroche.

"He can't resolve everything by himself, but he can start."

Mr Portillo's victory is 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.

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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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