May 27, 2002

Colombia elects new president

BOGOTA, Colombia (CNN) --Colombian presidential candidate Alvaro Uribe
claimed victory in a somber speech to supporters at a Bogota hotel, after election
returns showed him with a solid majority in Sunday's vote.

"I would like to thank all of the participants of this beautiful show of democracy and
patriotism," said the president-elect.

Uribe, a former provincial governor who campaigned as an independent, won about
53 percent of the vote, averting a runoff with his closest rival, Liberal Party
candidate Horacio Serpa.

Serpa conceded defeat earlier Sunday, after receiving about 31.7 percent of the vote.
Wishing Uribe "lots of luck," he said, "Colombia expects a lot from you. I ask God
to illuminate you and make you wise."

The U.S. government was quick to acknowledge Uribe's victory. Ambassador Anne
Patterson congratulated Uribe Sunday, saying his election indicated that the country
is fed up with a four-decade-old leftist rebellion. The election of Uribe would be a
positive development for U.S.-Colombian relations, Patterson said.

His victory followed a get-tough campaign aimed at the leftist rebels. He has
promised to increase military spending by $1 billion and double the size of the police

Uribe, 49, has survived several attempts on his life, most recently in April.

The government had dispatched security forces by the thousands to ensure the
voting went smoothly, and voters responded by turning out in high numbers.

However, a few incidents of violence were reported. Voting was suspended in
several municipalities after suspected members of the largest rebel group, the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, set fire to ballot boxes,
authorities said.

Near Bogota, in the town of Junin, two FARC guerrillas were killed when the car
they were driving exploded.

Voters at the Plaza de Bolivar overwhelmingly cited security as the primary issue
driving their choice. Those interviewed by CNN said they see no other solution to
nearly four decades of guerilla warfare other than the hard-line stance advocated by

Candidate and former Sen. Ingrid Betancourt drew less than 1 percent of the vote.
Betancourt's name remained on the ballot despite her kidnapping in February by
suspected leftist rebels.