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Leftist contender declared winner in Salvadoran presidential runoff race

Conservative Arena supporters organize violent protests in the Central American nation

Arena supporters pray in San Salvador.
Arena supporters pray in San Salvador.JOSE CABEZAS (AFP)

Confusion and tension reign in El Salvador after the ruling leftist party candidate was declared the winner early Thursday following a close presidential runoff over the weekend. Supporters of the conservative Arena party have taken to the streets to demand that the elections be annulled.

“Homeland, yes, communism, no,” shouted hundreds of supporters of Arena candidate Norman Quijano outside the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), which finished the recount shortly after midnight Wednesday.

Salvador Sánchez Cerén, of the ruling Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) party, was declared the victor in Sunday’s runoff by some 6,300 votes.

The final recount is only being held so they can commit more fraud, not legitimize the process”

Quijano has suggested that the government of President Mauricio Funes was trying to steal the elections.

On Wednesday, Arena supporters took to the streets, burning tires and setting up roadblocks in the municipality of Ilopango. Similar unrest was reported in other towns where retired military officers, who took part in El Salvador’s brutal civil war (1980-1992), also participated.

The election dispute and the tight results reflect the deep rifts that still exist between the former Marxist guerrillas and some sectors of the far right. Sánchez Cerén is a former guerrilla commander and served as vice president under Fuenes, who was the first FMLN candidate to win the presidency since the peace accords were signed in 1992.

Taking part in the recount were officials from the Attorney General’s office and Human Rights Advocate Office, both supervised by missions from the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations.

“We have arrived at the final recount, but this is only being held so that they can commit more fraud, not legitimize the process,” Arena vice president Ernesto Muyshondt told EL PAÍS.

On Sunday, Quijano called his supporters to take to the streets after charging that fraud had been committed at many polling stations.

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