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El Salvador rivals in last appeal

Arena candidate Rodrigo Avila
Arena candidate Rodrigo Avila has been trailing in the polls

El Salvador's main political parties have appealed to voters in their final rallies ahead of next Sunday's presidential election.

Governing conservative party candidate Rodrigo Avila told supporters that a vote for him would be in defence of the values of God, country and freedom.

He has been trailing the candidate of the former left-wing FMLN guerrillas, Mauricio Funes, in the polls.

At his rally, Mr Funes said it was time for real change in El Salvador.

He vowed to fight to improve the lives of the country's poor, and work to eradicate the gang violence affecting the country.

The election comes six weeks after the FMLN rode to victory in the country's parliamentary election for the first time.

Stadium rally

Mr Avila and his Nationalist Republican Alliance party, known as Arena, were cheered on by an estimated 70,000 supporters at their rally in a football stadium in the capital, San Salvador.

Many chanted: "Motherland, yes, communism, no."

Mr Avila said a victory for the FMLN would put El Salvador under the influence of socialist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

FMNL candidate Mauricio Funes
Mauricio Funes says those in power have done nothing for the poor

"Are we going to allow El Salvador to fall into Chavez's control? Do we want to see our family and children living a better life with progress and freedom? Then, my brothers, on 15 March we must all go voting early in the morning," he said.

In his rally, Mr Funes - a former TV journalist - criticised his political opponents for not having helped the country's poorest classes after 20 consecutive years in power.

"Everybody has joined this strong force that has a common point: the will of millions of Salvadoreans who want change," he said.

In a radio address to the nation, incumbent President Tony Saca appealed for a peaceful run-up to polling day.

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SEE ALSO
Former rebels win Salvador poll
25 Jan 09 |  Americas
Country profile: El Salvador
25 Feb 09 |  Country profiles

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