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Former leftist guerrilla wins El Salvador presidential election

Former leftist rebel commander Salvador Sanchez Ceren has won El Salvador’s presidential election by a razor-thin margin. His conservative opponent, Norman Quijano, has vowed to challenge the official results.

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal on Thursday officially declared Sanchez Ceren (pictured) the winner of the Central American nation's presidential election by a margin of just 7,000 votes. He secured 50.1 percent of the ballot compared to 49.9 percent for Quijano.

Sanchez Ceren's victory marks the first time that a majority of Salvadorans have voted for a former rebel commander since the end of the civil war in 1992.

A former teacher and education minister, 69-year-old Sanchez Ceren was among the five highest-ranking rebel commanders, who led the fight against El Salvador's US-backed right-wing government during the 1980s.

At least 76,000 people died in that conflict.

El Salvador's new leader had served as vice president in the administration of outgoing President Mauricio Funes, the first leftist politician to lead El Salvador after two decades of right-wing rule.

During the civil war, Funes was a journalist sympathetic to the guerrillas, but never joined the left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). The FMLN became a political party after the 1992 peace deal.

“This is a very exciting moment, but also a moment of commitment for the FMLN,” said Lorena Pena, an FMLN congresswoman. “We will be fully committed to the people.”

Sanchez Ceren's victory was much narrower than originally predicted. Prior to the election, he had been favored with a 10-point lead over 67-year-old Quijano.

Quijano vows to challenge results

Quijano, for his part, has vowed to challenge the results of last Sunday's election. He has organized street protests against alleged electoral fraud and has called on the military to intervene. But the defense minister, General David Munguia Payes, said the armed forces would respect the declared election result.

“We are committed to respecting the official results that are issued by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal,” Munguia Payes said. “We repeat that we are committed to strictly respecting the sovereign decisions that the people of El Salvador expressed at the ballot.”

On Wednesday, Quijano alleged that the electoral authorities did not allow some of his campaign ads to run.

He also accused the FMLN of allowing its members to vote twice and charged the electoral tribunal of favoring the leftist party.

slk/ipj (AP, AFP)

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