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Colombia Governing Party's Santos Wins in Landslide
Promising to continue the policies of his predecessor Alvaro Uribe on security and to reduce unemployment in a country where 46% of the people live below the poverty line, ruling-party candidate Juan Manuel Santos has defeated former Bogota Mayor Antanas Mockus and won Colombia's presidential runoff in a landslide (VIDEO)

BOGOTA -- Returns released late Sunday showed ruling-party candidate Juan Manuel Santos winning Colombia's presidential runoff in a landslide.

With more than 64 percent of the ballots counted, the former defense minister was leading Green Party hopeful Antanas Mockus by a margin of 69.1 percent to 27.4 percent, the National Registrar's Office said.

Those figures closely match the results of the latest polls ahead of the runoff, which showed Santos winning 67 percent of the vote and Mockus garnering just 29 percent.

Nearly 30 million people were eligible to vote for President Alvaro Uribe's successor, who will take office on August 7, but officials estimated Sunday's turnout at around 30%.

Some analysts had predicted a low turnout because of Sunday's three World Cup matches.

Uribe called on Colombians to watch the World Cup after voting.

"Watching the World Cup matches is very enjoyable. Sports unite humanity. But it's much more enjoyable after having voted, so you can fulfill your democratic obligation of participating in the election of the new president of Colombia," Uribe said after casting his ballot in Bogota.

Santos garnered a surprisingly high 46.5 percent of the vote and Mockus just 21.5 percent in the first-round election held on May 30.

Prior to the balloting, polls had indicated that Santos and Mockus, a former Bogota mayor, were running neck-and-neck.

Santos's strong showing in the first round was seen as an expression of voter approval for Uribe and the security gains made under his administration.

The outgoing Uribe, 57, leaves office with a 70% approval rating, having served two consecutive mandates from 2002.

He remains hugely popular with Colombians, largely because of tough security policies to aggressively take on the leftist insurgencies that have destabilized the country for more than four decades.

The courts rejected Uribe's bid to seek a third straight term, which has helped rally his supporters around Santos, who served as his defense minister and oversaw successful military campaigns against the leftist FARC rebels.

Santos, a familiar political insider whose lengthy government resume includes stints as commerce and treasury minister, has vowed to pursue the policies of the highly popular outgoing president.

Colombians also associate Santos with several successful military campaigns, such as the attack against a FARC encampment in Ecuador in March 2008 that killed the group's number two Raul Reyes and Operation Jaque that rescued 15 high-profile hostages, including Ingrid Betancourt, in July 2008.

Authorities have sought to maintain security Sunday by closing all its border crossings with Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Peru and Venezuela when the country votes.

The government deployed more than 350,000 soldiers and police officers to provide security.

Several attacks were reported during election weekend across Colombia.

In the most serious incident, at least seven police officers were killed Sunday in a guerrilla attack in the northeastern province of Norte de Santander, police spokesmen said.

A police patrol was ambushed on the road between Tibu and Tres Bocas, police spokesmen said in Cucuta, the capital of Norte de Santander.

The attack was apparently carried out by National Liberation Army, or ELN, guerrillas, who operate in the province on the border with Venezuela.

Three soldiers were also killed Sunday in fighting with guerrillas, Defense Minister Gabriel Silva and Justice and Interior Minister Fabio Valencia said.

Two soldiers died and one was wounded in Villa Paz, located in the central province of Meta, in clashes with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, rebels.

Six guerrillas were killed in the fighting, the ministers said.

A soldier was killed and another wounded in Angostura, a town in the northwestern province of Antioquia, in fighting with guerrillas, but it is not clear if the insurgents belonged to the FARC or ELN.

Suspected guerrillas seized and burned election materials Sunday at a polling place in a remote town in Norte de Santander, elections officials said.

Polling places in the northwestern province of Choco, the southwestern province of Cauca and the southern province of Putumayo did not open because election workers were threatened by guerrillas, officials said.

Two marines were killed Friday and one was wounded in fighting with FARC guerrillas in Tumaco, city in southwestern Colombia, the navy said.

National Police explosives experts deactivated two roadside bombs that the FARC had planted on a highway in Caqueta province.

A town in Nariņo province was left without power due to the bombing of an electricity transmission tower.

The pre-election period was the most peaceful in Colombia in the past 30 years, Silva said.

In a country where 46% of the population lives below the poverty line, Santos has made commitments to reduce the endemic problems of unemployment and under-employment, including a promise to create 2.5 million jobs in four years.


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