Santos re-elected Colombia president in peace vote

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Juan Manuel Santos has convincingly won re-election after Colombia's tightest presidential contest in years, an endorsement of his 18-month-old peace talks to end the Western Hemisphere's longest-running conflict.

Santos yesterday defeated right-wing challenger Oscar Ivan Zuluaga with 53%-to-47% of valid votes with 99.9% of precincts reporting.

Zuluaga was backed by former two-term President Alvaro Uribe, who many considered the true challenger.

They accused Santos of selling Colombia out in slow-slogging Cuba-based negotiations, and insisted Zuluaga would halt the talks unless the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, ceased all hostilities and some of its leaders accepted jail time.

The outcome affirmed Santos' claim to be steering Colombia to a historic crossroads after a half-century of conflict that claimed more than 200,000 lives, mostly civilians.

"Now we're going to build this peace for which we've so long yearned," said Ivan Cepeda, a leading leftist lawmaker. A FARC spokeswoman in Havana said the rebels had no comment on the election's results.

The campaign was Andean nation's dirtiest in years, and Uribe alleged widespread vote-buying by the Santos camp right up to the closing of polls. Zuluaga nevertheless graciously conceded defeat less than an hour after the result became known. Uribe didn't put in an appearance at his campaign headquarters.

Santos' win was a comeback of sorts Zuluaga beat him in the first round of five candidates May 25. His 900,000-vote victory hinged in large part on winning Bogota and making major gains on the Caribbean coast, where his party machinery was strong.

In the first round, Santos finished third in the capital, stronghold of defeated leftist candidate Clara Lopez, who endorsed him in the runoff.

Voter turnout rose somewhat, too, from 40% in the first round to 48% yesterday, and was seen as favoring Santos.

The University of Kansas-educated incumbent got the backing last week of 80 top business leaders and announced exploratory talks with the National Liberation Army, Colombia's other, far smaller rebel band.

Uribe had accused Santos, grandnephew of a president from a blue-blood Bogota newspaper clan, of offering impunity to the rebels.

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