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Ex-president Garcia leads Peru runoff vote-exit polls

Written by: Staff

LIMA, Peru, June 4 (Reuters) Former President Alan Garcia, who led Peru to economic ruin in the 1980s, led a runoff election over an ex-army nationalist promising a revolution against the rich, two exit polls showed today.

Garcia had 52.8 percent of the vote, compared to 47.2 percent for Ollanta Humala, according to one exit poll released by respected firm Apoyo. A Datum exit poll gave Garcia 54.9 percent versus 45.1 percent for Humala.

Many Peruvians apparently voted for Garcia -- dubbed ''Latin America's Kennedy'' when he was first elected to the presidency at the age of 35 -- because he was seen as the lesser of two evils and less hostile to business.

''It's a sad day. Neither of them is a good candidate,'' said 45-year-old psychologist Ida Blanc after she cast her vote for Garcia in an upper-middle-class neighborhood of Lima. ''I want stability and Alan is the best of a bad bunch.'' Hundreds of voters cheering ''Alan for president!'' applauded Garcia as he cast his ballot in a middle-class suburb in Lima, underscoring his popularity among some Peruvians.

If the results are confirmed by election officials later today, it would be a huge political comeback for a leader whose government in the 1980s was marked by economic ruin, Marxist rebel violence and accusations of rights abuses.

Garcia says he has learned from his mistakes and portrays himself as a left-of-center democrat who will better manage Peru's economy after five years of unprecedented growth. He has clashed with Venezuela's anti-U.S. President Hugo Chavez.

But Garcia still preaches more state regulation and his victory would be another sign of a shift to the left in Latin America, where millions of voters are tired of free market reforms that have done little to improve living conditions.

A Humala win would have been a serious blow for Washington's influence in Latin America due to his ties to Chavez, who is trying to rally the region against what he says is US imperialism.

Reuters PDS VP0330

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