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Former president takes runoff Peruvian race


LIMA, Peru -- Former President Alan Garcia won the presidential runoff election here yesterday against nationalist challenger and ex-Army officer Ollanta Humala.

Garcia, 57, whose 1985-1990 presidential term left the country on the verge of economic and political collapse, had garnered 55.5 percent of the vote, compared to 44.5 percent for Humala, according to an official count of 77.3 percent of ballots. The lead was insurmountable, said the head of the electoral agency, Magdalena Chu.

The margin could shrink, however, as Humala's support is strongest in rural areas where vote reporting is slower.

Speaking to ebullient followers before the first official results were announced, Garcia thanked God for what "appears to be a victory by the party of the people."

It was a stunning comeback for a man whose name had been equated with political disaster - and a rejection of a political upstart enthusiastically endorsed by Venezuela's anti-U.S. president.

A Garcia victory would be a major setback for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his efforts to extend his influence in the hemisphere. Chavez openly backed Garcia's opponent and labeled Garcia a liar and a thief. His efforts may have backfired in Peru, where anti-Chavez sentiment is strong.

U.S. officials considered Garcia, a left-leaning populist, more palatable than Humala. A Humala victory would have been widely seen as an embarrassing setback for the Bush administration after the rise to the presidency of Evo Morales, a close ally of Chavez, in neighboring Bolivia.

Peru's departing president, Francisco Toledo, is a staunch U.S. ally. Chavez has derided him as a "puppet" of Washington.

In his victory speech, Garcia called Chavez and his "imperialist" designs the big loser in the election.

The often nasty election campaign highlighted deep divisions in Peruvian society: Garcia benefited from the fears generated as Humala played to the frustrations of Peru's struggling masses.

Patrick J. McDonnell writes for the Los Angeles Times. Special correspondent Adrian Leon in Lima contributed to this report along with the Associated Press.

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