Colombian voters appear to have rejected a peace deal with the country’s largest rebel movement by a razor-thin margin in a national referendum, delivering a major shock to the war-torn nation.
The government has yet to concede defeat, but with almost all votes counted, the results look irreversible.
With more than 99% of voting stations reporting, those opposing the deal lead with 50.2%, compared to 49.8% for those backing the deal – a difference of less than 59,000 votes out of 13 million counted.
The leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) has reiterated the rebels’ willingness to work toward peace following the referendum defeat.
President Juan Manuel Santos said he will consult with the opposition and leaders of the Farc, in his much-anticipated televised address.
He said he will leave in place a ceasefire with the rebels while trying to save the peace accord.
Mr Santos said the peace deal represents the best option for Colombia to put behind it more than a half century of hostilities with the Farc.
He said he has ordered government negotiators to return to Cuba on Monday to consult with leaders of the Farc.
The president said: “I won’t give up. I’ll continue search for peace until the last moment of my mandate.”
The violence that has claimed more than 220,000 lives and driven more than five million people from their homes over five decades.
Under the 297-page accord, FARC guerrillas are supposed to turn over their weapons within six months after the deal is formally signed. In return, the FARC’s still unnamed future political movement will be given a minimum 10 congressional seats – five in the lower house, five in the Senate – for two legislative periods.
In addition, 16 lower house seats will be created for grassroots activists in rural areas traditionally neglected by the state and in which existing political parties will be banned from running candidates.
Opponents argued the deal was too lenient on the rebel group.