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Right-Wing Candidate Wins El Salvador Presidential Election - 2004-03-22

A candidate from El Salvador's right-wing nationalist party has won the country's presidential election, extending the group's three-term rule of the Central American country.

With most of the votes counted Monday, results show businessman and ARENA party candidate Tony Saca beating out former leftist guerilla leader Schafik Handal by about 20 percentage points. Mr. Handal has recognized his rival's victory.

Speaking to ARENA supporters soon after the polls closed, Mr. Saca said Salvadorans elected him because of his commitment to freedom.

El Salvador's election officials say turnout was heavy in the vote to replace President Francisco Flores.

During his campaign, Mr. Saca emphasized his party's close relations with the United States and said he will continue pro-U.S. policies if he wins.

Mr. Handal had promised to raise taxes for the rich, increase social spending, renegotiate a trade agreement reached with the United States last year and resume El Salvador's diplomatic relations with Cuba. He had also vowed to pull El Salvador's contingent of troops out of Iraq.

Despite their political differences, the two candidates share a similar heritage: both were born to Palestinian families that migrated to El Salvador.