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Big voter turnout defies Salvadoran guerrillas

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Salvadoran voters defied gunfire, bombs, and burning buses to turn out in huge numbers in a telling repudiation of leftist guerrilla threats who had warned voters to stay away from the polls.

At this writing it remained to be seen whether the massive voter turnout in El Salvador's March 28 election would benefit President Jose Napoleon Duarte and his moderate Christian Democrats or former Army major Roberto d'Aubuisson and his right-wing party.

What is not in doubt is that the guerrilla strategy to first prevent and then disrupt the election failed as voters thronged the polling places, despite reports that at least 16 people had been killed in street fighting.

The turnout, far beyond all expectations, was so large as the polls opened under a warm tropical sun that waits of three to four hours before voting were common. A scarcity of ballots developed in a number of polling places.

It was obvious that terrorist threats from the guerrillas had not intimidated voters here. Nor does it appear from preliminary reports that voters had been forced by the far right into voting. Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R) of Kansas, leader of the official US delegation to monitor the election, said that random conversations at the polls indicated to her that there had not been intimidation.

The poll also seemed to confirm President Duarte's dogged determination to hold the elections in the midst of the civil war with the guerrillas.

Although the guerrillas had been encouraged to participate in the elections, they refused such entreaties - calling the vote, which is designed to elect a constituent assembly, a ''farce'' and a ''sham.'' Thus El Salvador's left is not represented in the voting, but a wide spectrum from the far right to the moderate left is included.

As the voting proceeded Sunday, skirmishes between the guerrillas and the Army took place in San Salvador suburbs and the main east-west Pan American highway was cut in two places by the guerrillas.

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