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article imageVoters in Colombia voters back peace talks, re-elect president

By Nathan Salant     Jun 16, 2014 in World
Bogot - Colombia's voters gave President Juan Manuel Santos a second term Sunday in a closely fought election that could mark a turning point in the country's decades-long struggle with Marxist guerrillas.
Santos, the center-right politician who opened talks with the guerrillas in 2012, had asked for a second term to continue the peace process and received nearly 51 percent of the vote, according to the Reuters news service.
Right-wing challenger Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, who opposed concessions to the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), tallied around 45 percent of the vote, Reuters said.
Santos contended during the campaign that Zuluaga was more likely to re-escalate the fighting that had killed more than 200,000 and forced millions from their homes over the years.
Santos supporters celebrated Sunday at his campaign headquarters in Bogota with music, dancing and confetti, Reuters said.
"I voted for peace," public relations executive Wilmar Diaz told Reuters.
"Santos is a decent man who has shown another way of doing politics," he said.
But near Bogota's colonial center near an old industrial part of the city, some Zuluaga backers cried as the numbers rolled in, Reuters said.
Zuluaga's supporters opposed any peace deal that would include immunity for FARC leaders, and feared that Santos was committing Colombia to such a deal at the ongoing talks in Havana, Cuba.
Zuluaga campaigned for imposing tough conditions on the rebels as a condition of continuing the peace talks, and many Colombians feared a resumption of the bloody war if he were elected.
But Santos tried to capitalize on the country's support for a settlement by telling voters that his government had started preliminary talks with Colombia's second-largest rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), Reuters said.
Santos' re-election was expected by Colombia's powerful financial sector, which did not react negatively.
Both Santos and Zuluaga were considered business-friendly, Reuters said.
But former president Alvaro Uribe, who backed Zuluaga, bitterly opposed Santos' peace initiative and campaigned for resumption of the military campaign against rebel groups, Reuters said.
Uribe played such a prominent role in the 2014 campaign that many Zuluaga voters spoke of "voting for Uribe," Colombia's president from 2002-2010, Reuters said.
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