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Peru nationalist extends lead in presidential poll

Written by: Staff

LIMA, Peru, Mar 27 (Reuters) Ollanta Humala, a radical nationalist former army officer campaigning to increase state control of the economy, extended his lead slightly in Peru's presidential race, as his rural support grew, a poll showed yesterday.

According to the Apoyo survey, 33 per cent of those questioned said they would vote for Humala on April 9, a 1-point increase from a poll released on March 19 and an 8-point climb since early February.

However, that is still less than the 50 per cent needed to win the election in the first round on April 9 and avoid a runoff between the top two finishers.

Humala's leading rival, center-right lawyer Lourdes Flores, who would be Peru's first woman president if elected, saw her support drop by 1 point to 27 percent, compared with the March 19 poll.

International investors see Flores as market-friendly.

Humala, who is most popular among Peru's poor and has the backing of leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, saw his support in the capital, Lima, fall slightly but gained in Peru's Andean and jungle areas.

''The overall picture is stable. Humala continues to gain in the provinces but has fallen slightly in Lima,'' Apoyo's director, Alfredo Torres, told the America television network, where the poll was published.

Former center-left President Alan Garcia, who is targeting younger voters, remained in third place with 22 percent support, a 1-point rise compared with mid March.

Garcia, who presided over economic chaos and rising Shining Path rebel violence during his 1985-1990 presidency, has won back support as a charismatic moderate.

But the same poll shows Flores would beat Humala by 53 per cent to 47 per cent if there were a second round.

The mid-March poll showed Humala and Flores tied at 50-50 in a second round.

Against Garcia, Flores would win by 57 per cent to 43 per cent in a second round. Humala would beat Garcia by 52 per cent to 48 per cent.

Flores is most popular among Peru's small middle class in Lima and has the support of the country's business leaders.

Humala pledges to enforce state control of Peru's mining and gas industries. Most popular in rural areas, he has struck a chord among voters disillusioned with traditional politicians who have failed to provide jobs and prosperity despite the country's strong economic performance since 2002.

The Apoyo poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 2 per cent.

Reuters SHB DB0911

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