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FARC opponent Uribe stands for Senate, as Colombians vote for Congress

Colombians have voted for representatives in the national Congress. One big question will be how former President Alvaro Uribe fared in his quest for a Senate seat.

Polls closed at 4 p.m. local time (2100 UTC) for the voting,

which came amid peace talks

with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), nominally left-wing rebels the government has battled for half a century in a civil war that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions.

The negotiations have dominated political life in Colombia since the they opened in late 2012. Polls predict that President Juan Manuel Santos, expected to announce his bid for re-election this week, will retain control of the two-chamber Congress, a tacit endorsement of his government's peace talks strategy.

"Up to now these elections have been far safer and peaceful than ever," Santos said Sunday as he cast his vote. "I hope it remains this way."

About 32 million Colombians were eligible to vote for representatives to fill 168 lower house seats and 102 in the Senate, though congressional elections have a particularly high abstention rate.

Ex-president seeks seat

Ahead of the election, National Ombudsman Jorge Armando Otalora said that groups such as FARC had exercised "pressure and intimidation" on voters to keep them from the polls in at least one-fifth of the country. The government announced that it would deploy 260,000 members of the armed forces to maintain security during the election.

Former President Alvaro Uribe, a conservative still popular for his fight against FARC while in power from 2002 to 2010, hopes to return to government with a Senate seat. Campaigning on the slogan "No to impunity," Uribe represents Colombia's first ex-president to seek a seat in the Senate, from which he aims to challenge the course of the talks.

Polls have predicted that Uribe's new party, the Democratic Center, will win only about 14 percent of the votes, which would give it just 19 of the 102 Senate seats. The incumbent, Santos, has solid backing from about 80 percent of lawmakers, including the Conservative, Liberal, Green, Radical Change and U parties.

mkg/se (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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