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Leftwing journalist wins historic election in El Salvador

March 13, 2009

SAN SALVADOR – Mauricio Funes, the candidate of the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), claimed victory Sunday night in El Salvador´s presidential election and vowed that his administration would promote unity, turn the economy into the most dynamic in Central America and bolster relations with the United States.

Funes´ victory ends 20 years of rule by the conservative Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) in El Salvador, which was torn by civil war in the 1980s.

Funes delivered his victory address after elections officials gave him 51.27 percent of the vote in Sunday´s presidential election, with 90.68 percent of the ballots counted.

Funes´ opponent, ARENA´s Rodrigo Avila, conceded defeat late Sunday.

“In a democracy, we all have to realize that sometimes you achieve your objectives and sometimes you don´t,” Avila said in his concession speech.

Funes, a former television journalist who never took up arms during the country´s civil war, which lasted from 1980 to 1992, promised that his administration would “seek to benefit the majority of the people, independently of their political preferences.”

“I greet my adversaries with respect, I recognize their work and express to them my willingness for a permanent exchange of ideas in the national interest and for the strengthening of democracy,” Funes said.

As the opposition party, “ARENA can be certain that it will be respected and heard,” Funes said.

Most polls gave the FMLN, a former guerrilla group, the edge in Sunday´s presidential election.

The FMLN won 35 seats in nationwide legislative elections held in January, giving it a plurality but not a majority in the unicameral legislature. The FMLN also won 95 mayoralties in the Jan. 18 elections.

“This is the happiest night of my life” and “the one of greatest hope for El Salvador,” Funes said.

Funes said he would work to create “a dynamic, efficient and competitive economy” and promote “the creation of a broad business base.”

“Our goal is to turn El Salvador into the most dynamic economy in Central America,” Funes told his cheering supporters.

The incoming administration, according to Funes, will adopt “an independent foreign policy based on the protection and promotion of national interests.”

“Central American integration and the strengthening of relations with the United States will be priority aspects of our foreign policy agenda,” Funes said.

The Costa Rican government congratulated Funes Monday following the news of his victory, inviting him to visit along with outgoing Salvadoran President Antonio Saca on March 30, to join a meeting of Central American heads of state and U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden.

“Costa Rica lends its warmest congratulations to President-elect Mauricio Funes and the Salvadoran people, and salutes the participating candidates in the presidential election for contributing to the revitalization of the democratic exercise in that nation,” the Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement.

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