Ex-revolutionary admits defeat in Nicaragua poll

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The former Sandinista guerrilla leader Daniel Ortega suffered a decisive defeat last night in his third attempt to gain the presidency of Nicaragua through the ballot box.

The writing was on the wall even as his supporters waited glumly for results from an election marked by a high turn-out and tight security. An early ballot count indicated the ruling Liberal party was ahead by eight percentage points.

"I think Ortega's era has has come to an end," President Arnoldo Aleman said after congratulating Enrique Bolanos, his former vice-president.

Mr Ortega conceded defeat before the final result was out. "We accept the mandate of the people and congratulate the Liberal ticket," he said.

Political analysts saw the defeat as a death knell for the leftist movement in Central America where, as a 23-year-old firebrand, Mr Ortega had ousted the dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979 and then fought the US-backed Contra forces in a bloody eight-year civil war. Unless a new leader is found among their ranks, the Sandinistas are extinct as a political force.

Liberal party backers gloated at an early victory party, burning an effigy of Mr Ortega and chanting "Three strikes, you're out". The baseball expression referred to Mr Ortega's third apparent election defeat even though 95 per cent of the ballots remained to be counted.

Mr Ortega, 55, had tried to put his militant radicalism behind him, reaching out to the poor in a campaign that stressed moderate reform.