Former defence chief secures presidency with landslide

A former defence minister from a powerful political clan who oversaw a major weakening of leftist rebels won Colombia’s presidency, routing an eccentric outsider in a runoff.

A former defence minister from a powerful political clan who oversaw a major weakening of leftist rebels won Colombia’s presidency, routing an eccentric outsider in a runoff.

The victory for Juan Manuel Santos, a 58-year-old economist and three-time government minister, was a ringing endorsement of outgoing conservative President Alvaro Uribe, whose US-backed security policies he helped craft and promised to continue.

In his victory speech before a crowd of 10,000 in a Bogota coliseum preceded by a traditional music and dance troupe, Mr Santos lionised Mr Uribe.

“If we have come so far it’s because we have been standing on the shoulders of giants,” he said, calling Mr Uribe “an exceptional person who transformed our country”.

With nearly all polling stations reporting, Mr Santos had 69% of the vote against 28% for former two-time Bogota Mayor Antanas Mockus.

It was the largest margin of victory in a presidential vote in modern Colombian history, said Carlos Ariel Sanchez, director of the national electoral council.

More than 3% of voters tendered protest ballots, indicating dissatisfaction with both candidates.

Mr Mockus ran an anti-corruption campaign as leader of a fledgling Green Party that many Colombians considered naive if well-intentioned.

But after catapulting into early contention he stumbled with a series of gaffes that had Colombians questioning his ability to run a country still mired in a half-century-old conflict.

Violence marred the vote as seven police officers and three soldiers were killed in separate attacks blamed on leftist rebels.

The police were killed when a roadside bomb ripped apart their truck on a routine patrol in Colombia’s northeast, authorities said, while the soldiers died in an ambush of an army patrol carrying election material to a town in the eastern plains.

Officials blamed the ambush on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc, the country’s largest rebel band. The bombing was blamed on a smaller insurgency.

Mr Santos, a former naval cadet, paid tribute to those losses in his victory speech, promising to work with Colombia’s armed forces to “consolidate control over every inch of our territory.

“Time is up for the Farc,” he said. There will be no dialogue with the rebels as long as they continue to engage in kidnapping and drug trafficking, he said.

As defence minister in 2006-09, Santos helped knock the wind out of the Farc. Two members of its seven-man ruling secretariat were killed during his tenure and Farc desertions soared.

He also oversaw the bloodless 2008 ruse that rescued former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, three US military contractors and 11 others from long captivity with the rebels.

In the May 30 first round, Mr Santos fell just shy of the simple majority needed for victory.

His margin of victory was superior to the 62% garnered by Mr Uribe in his 2006 re-election. Mr Mockus won in just one state, Putumayo, on Colombia’s southern border.

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