Leftist wins Colombian capital in local vote

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BOGOTA, Oct 28 (Reuters) A leftist foe of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe won the Bogota mayor's office in a nationwide local election that ended peacefully despite a campaign marred by a wave of threats and killings.

Violence has eased under Uribe, but at least 21 candidates were killed before the vote in attacks mostly blamed on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC, which is still fighting Latin America's oldest insurgency.

The vote for governors, mayors, assemblies and village councils was a test of how far US ally Uribe has curbed armed groups, especially paramilitaries who disarmed in a peace deal but who analysts say still hold sway in local politics.

Samuel Moreno, a Harvard-educated grandson of a former dictator, won a tight race for Bogota mayor against Enrique Penalosa, a former mayor who many residents had praised for helping transform the high-altitude Andean city.

''Today is a day for celebration, today is a day for great news,'' Moreno told local radio when 90 per cent of ballot results showed he had won and his rivals acknowledged defeat yesterday.

A second term in Bogota for Moreno's left-wing Democratic Pole party bolsters Uribe's main opponents who looked for a strong showing to prepare for presidential elections in 2010.

Uribe remains highly popular thanks to his security crackdown, but the conservative leader has said he will not seek reforms to allow him to stand for a third term in 2010.

Intimidation by guerrillas yestrday stopped voting in one rural town, rebels shot and killed a police officer in an attack, and a bomb knocked out electricity to five towns in the southern province Narino, authorities said.

The government says killings have dropped since the last local election in 2003 and points to the increase in the number of candidates as a sign of a healthier security in areas where armed groups once prohibited voting.

But critics were worried about the influence of a group of pro-Uribe lawmakers who have been arrested for ties to former paramilitary warlords accused of some of the worst atrocities in the country's four-decade conflict.

Uribe says his government is rooting out paramilitary influence, but opponents counter the ''para-political'' scandal underscores how some politicians are still tied to militia bosses accused of massacres and drug-trafficking.

US Democrats controlling Congress have Uribe under scrutiny as they debate a free trade agreement and a new aid package for Colombia. Some want him to do more to stop rights abuses and the influence of jailed paramilitary commanders.

REUTERS SZ PM0555

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