Wed, Sep 12, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Colom, Perez prepare for runoff


A tough-on-crime former general and a businessman running on an anti-poverty platform who emerged as the top two candidates in the first round of Guatemala's presidential election are jockeying for alliances ahead of a Nov. 4 runoff.

Alvaro Colom, a businessman making his third run for the presidency, had a 28.4 percent to 23.6 percent lead over former general Otto Perez of the conservative Patriot Party, with about 98 percent of the votes counted on Monday.

"We have some alliances already with political parties, which we will announce at the appropriate time," Colom told reporters. "Starting today we will intensify our search for alliances ... some people have called us looking to negotiate."

Perez, whose recent rise has brought back memories of decades of military rule in the Central American country, said: "We will seek to reunite the voters of the center-right, many of whom were scattered [among different candidates] in the first round."

Perez, just 4 percentage points behind Colom, said he was "totally sure we will overcome these two or three points and add to them."

Sunday's vote sheared away 10 other less-popular candidates, among them Nobel Laureate and Mayan activist Rigoberta Menchu, who got 3 percent support.

Menchu is the first Mayan woman to run for the presidency in Guatemala, where 42 percent of the population is Mayan. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her human rights work following a civil war that killed 200,000 people, most of them Mayans.

Perez has stressed the need to crack down on crime as a way to create growth, while Colom says the fight against crime should start with job creation in a country where 51 percent of the population lives on less than US$2 a day.

Guatemala is Central America's most violent country and a corridor for Colombian cocaine heading to the US.

Guatemala has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Almost 6,000 people were killed in the country of 13 million last year.

Members of street gangs like the infamous "Mara Salvatrucha" terrorize neighborhoods, beheading rivals, raping women and extorting shopkeepers and bus drivers.

Perez, who denies overseeing massacres during the 1960 to 1996 civil war, promises to hire more police officers, use the military to fight drug gangs and institute the death penalty.

Colom proposes an increase in social spending and an overhaul of the judicial system.

About 50 candidates, party activists and their family members died in the run-up to Sunday's round of voting, which was monitored by more than 34,000 police and soldiers.

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