Voters rejected a peace deal with leftist rebels by a razor-thin margin in a national referendum Sunday, delivering a major setback to President Juan Manuel Santos, who vowed to keep a ceasefire in place and not give up his campaign to end a half-century of war, the AP reports. With more than 99% of polling stations reporting, 50.2% of ballots opposed the accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia while 49.8% favored it—a difference of less than 57,000 votes out of a total of 13 million. Pre-election polls had predicted the "yes" vote would win by an almost two-to-one margin.
"I won't give up. I'll continue to search for peace until the last moment of my mandate," Santos said in a televised address recognizing his defeat. He ordered his negotiators to return to Cuba on Monday to consult with FARC leaders who were awaiting results on the communist island. He also promised to listen to opponents in a bid to save—and strengthen the deal, which he said is Colombia's best chance for ending a conflict that has killed 220,000 people and driven almost 8 million people from their homes. Opponents, led by influential former President Alvaro Uribe, argued that the government was appeasing the rebels and setting a bad example that criminal gangs would seize on. (Read more Colombia stories.)