Colombian presidential poll is too close to call

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Colombians voted yesterday for a successor to President Alvaro Uribe in the first round of an election pitting a veteran minister who waged war on rebels against an eccentric former mayor vowing to battle corruption.

Front runners former Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos and two-time Bogota Mayor Antanas Mockus both promise to maintain Uribe's security policies and create jobs, but polls predicted that neither would gain the majority needed to avoid a June runoff.

"The best way to respond to terrorists who want to attack democracy is go out and vote," Mr Santos said as he cast his ballot in Bogota. "Every candidate wants to win in the first round, but I would not dare to predict the outcome."

A key US ally in the region, Uribe steps down still popular after two terms dominated by his war against drug-trafficking rebels. Santos, one of Uribe's staunchest supporters, has faced unexpected competition from Mockus, who once dropped his pants as a university director to get the attention of unruly students. He surged in support with a Green party campaign against graft and they were tied in the polls going into yesterday's vote.