Guatemala: Berger claims victory

Former Guatemala City mayor Oscar Berger has claimed victory in Guatemala's presidential runoff vote.

    Berger has pledged to abide by the country's peace accords

    Partial official results on Monday showed Berger had a nearly insurmountable lead over opponent Alvaro Colom.

    With 94% of the vote counted, Berger led Colom by 54%

    to 46% in the race to succeed President Alfonso Portillo on 14 January

    , the Supreme Electoral Tribunal said.

    Following the announcement, Berger called on Colom to concede and join him in moving the

    nation forward.

    "Let us all come together to make the changes this country

    needs," the 57-year-old candidate of the Grand National Alliance


    "Let us all come together to make the changes this country


    Oscar Berger,
    Presidential candidate


    Low turnout

    But a spokesman for Colom's party said the National Union of Hope

    standard-bearer would not comment until after all votes are


    Ramiro McDonald said party leaders "are reviewing all

    the information we have obtained... and simultaneously we are

    analysing the data that the Supreme Electoral Tribunal gave."

    Five million people were eleigible to vote, but election

    officials said turnout was only 46%.

    Neither of the two conservative businessmen received a majority

    in the 9 November first round, forcing a runoff.

    However, the vote 

    eliminated former dictator Efrain Rios Montt from contention, to the

    relief of many Guatemalans who consider him a human-rights abuser.


    Rios Montt, accused of genocide during his brief rule from

    1982-1983, had also drawn international attention to the race. He

    backed Colom in the runoff.

    Berger, 57, pledged to abide by the 1996 Peace Accords that

    ended Guatemala's 36-year civil war.

    More than 200,000 people were

    killed or went missing during the war, 80% of them indigenous Mayans, according

    to the UN-backed Truth Commission.

    Former US President Clinton expressed regret for America's role in the war, saying that Washington "was wrong" to have supported Guatemalan security forces that slaughtered thousands of civilians.

    The former mayor has also promised to "fight hard against discrimination

    and racism" and to promote intercultural values.

    Alvaro Colom (R) has not yet to
    conceed defeat

    Mayan disenfranchisement

    He pledged earlier to include Mayans in his government as

    tourist information officers. But Indian leaders dismissed those as

    domestic jobs - the kind many Mayans already have in wealthy

    Guatemalans' homes.

    Meanwhile, Colom, 52, claimed to be better equipped for the job

    of turning Guatemala into a multicultural society.

    He is the only

    non-Mayan ever to qualify as a spiritual leader in Guatemala's

    ancient native religion.

    The textile magnate got into politics in 1999 as presidential

    candidate of the New National Alliance, which also included

    demobilised leftist guerrillas of the National Guatemala

    Revolutionary Unit.

    A year later, he founded his current party and shifted his

    ideology toward the centre.



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