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Guatemalans Cast Votes in Presidential Run-Off Ballot - 2003-12-28

Guatemalans are casting their votes in a runoff presidential election between the top two vote-getters in the November 9 ballot. No candidate won more than the 50 percent of the vote needed to win the presidency outright last month.

Under sunny skies and the watchful eyes of about 10,000 election observers, Guatemalans are casting their votes in the second round of the presidential elections.

Former Guatemala City mayor Oscar Berger is running on the ticket of a conservative alliance of three parties favored by the country's traditional business elite. He has been leading in opinion polls with a 10 to 16 point advantage over his rival, Alvaro Colom.

Mr. Colom, the former director of the governmental National Fund for Peace, is running on the ticket of the centrist party he founded. Mr. Colom arrived early to vote, surrounded by a crowd of supporters and press.

Pollsters say the tendency in the opinion polls is unlikely to change, but Mr. Colom maintains that the opinion polls were manipulated to favor Berger and predicts an upset. He says he is feeling calm and secure of winning. He says his parties' surveys show they will win with an eight to 12 point lead.

Results are not expected until late Sunday.