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June 23, 2017

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Colombia's Santos to face rival in presidential runoff

BOGOTA, Colombia--President Juan Manuel Santos and conservative Oscar Zuluaga will compete in a run-off vote following Colombia's presidential election Sunday, with peace talks with Marxist rebels the central issue.

Zuluaga earned 29 percent of the vote against 26 percent for the president, according to official results. Since neither won more than 50 percent there will be a second round of voting on June 15.

After the results Santos presented the election as a referendum on his center-right government's 18-month negotiations in Cuba with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas.

The runoff would be a choice "between those who want an end to the war and those who prefer a war without end," Santos told supporters, who responded by chanting "peace! peace!"

Zuluaga, a former finance minister supported by popular hard-line former president Alvaro Uribe, offered a different option.

"We cannot allow the FARC attempt to command the country from Havana," he told supporters, stating that he would not allow impunity for the "crimes against humanity" carried out by the rebels.

"My committment is to work for ... a serious, responsible and lasting peace," Zuluaga said.

Once ahead in opinion polls, Santos slipped as the campaign descended into a morass of mudslinging on both sides that included charges of espionage and corruption.

Still Hope for Santos

Miguel Garcia, director of the Democracy Observatory at the University of the Andes, said the result was not "completely negative" for Santos.

"But it shows a divided country in which Zuluaga capitalized on the distrust that millions have toward the FARC," he said.

Santos and Zuluaga headed a field of five candidates, with conservative Marta Lucia Ramirez in third place with 15.5 percent.

"The chances of winning in a second round will be defined by alliances," opined Carlos Medina with the Universidad Nacional.

Santos already reached out to leftists, independents, and conservatives who support the ongoing peace talks.

"I call on you to join this crusade for peace," he said.

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