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Vote Counting Underway in Guatemalan Presidential Election - 2003-12-29

Voting has ended in Guatemala's presidential elections. Officials expect to release results over the next several hours. The polls have closed and ballots are being counted after a day of relatively light but peaceful voting in Guatemala's presidential elections.

Since none of the eleven candidates who ran in the November 9 elections won more than the 50 percent of the vote needed to clinch the presidency outright, the first place vote-getter Oscar Berger and second place candidate Alvaro Colom faced off in a second round of voting.

The controversial former dictator, retired General Efrain Rios Montt, was eliminated from the race after coming in third place in November.

In the days before the election, opinion polls gave Mr. Berger anywhere between a 10 and 16 point advantage and enough confidence in an eventual win that he has already made arrangements for a victory party.

Mr. Berger -- a 57-year-old businessman and former Guatemala City mayor -- is running on the ticket of a conservative alliance of three parties which is favored by the country's traditional business elite.

Mr. Colom, a 52-year-old engineer and businessman is running on the ticket of a centrist party that he founded. He is the former director of the governmental National Fund for Peace. Throughout the campaign season

Mr. Colom said the polls were manipulated in Mr. Berger's favor and in recent days has predicted an upset. His party has also rented space for a victory celebration.