Salvador victor seeks consensus with left

SAN SALVADOR (Reuter) - The winner of El Salvador's first post- war presidential elections held talks yesterday with his left-wing opponents, including a former rebel leader, to ensure stability and keep the country's peace process alive. Fresh from his emphatic victory in last Sunday's runoff election, president-elect Armando Calderon Sol held nearly two hours of talks with the defeated opposition candidate, Ruben Zamora, and with a former guerrilla leader, Schafik Handal.

The three men, joined by the United States ambassador, Alan Flanigan, focused on setting an agenda for electoral and judicial reforms laid out in UN-brokered peace accords that ended El Salvador's 12-year civil war two years ago. Trying to return calm to a country polarised by a bitter election campaign, they discussed how to resurrect the process of national reconciliation.

'The route the country takes in the next few years is going to depend heavily on that,' said Mr Handal, a Communist former rebel commander in the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) which backed Mr Zamora's presidential bid, and took a strong second place in last month's legislative elections. 'We have regressed in the campaign . . . The language used was the language of war and creates a psychology of confrontation in which anything can happen,' Mr Handal said.

Few believe Mr Calderon Sol and his right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party will be able to govern without cutting deals with the FMLN. Mr Zamora won nearly 400,000 votes and the FMLN, taking part in its first-ever elections just 15 months after laying down its guns, won 21 seats in the 84-member Legislative Assembly that begins work on 1 May .

'We are the second strongest power and he will have to negotiate with us. The peace process requires it,' said Joaquin Villalobos, a leading FMLN commander throughout the war.

But Mr Calderon Sol's position in tough negotiations over the coming months was boosted by his margin of victory in Sunday's runoff vote. With more than 99 per cent of votes counted, he had 68.3 per cent support and Mr Zamora trailed more than 320,000 votes behind.

The UN deployed some 900 observers from 52 countries to ensure that the elections were fair and clean.

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