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Former revolutionary leader Daniel Ortega has switched from fiery Marxist guerrilla to moderate social democrat to woo voters in Nicaragua's Sunday presidential election.

Gone are the military fatigues, black-frame glasses, rabble-rousing oratory and communist dogma from his days as head of Nicaragua's Sandinista government from 1979 to 1990. In their place are white shirts, contact lenses, sound bites and the free market to match a new post-Cold War world.

"I'm a revolutionary and a revolutionary needs to be constantly changing if he wants to carry out the reforms that are needed," Ortega said. "The international reality has changed and the Sandinista Front has changed with it."

Ortega's popularity has surged in the campaign's final months, closing almost all the 17-point lead that CID-Gallup polls gave his right-wing rival, Arnoldo Aleman, at the start of 1996.

The "new-look" Ortega, 50, has said if he wins he will respect the free market and foreign investors -- a sharp turnaround for a man whose government confiscated private property, nationalized companies and demonized Washington and the U.S.-backed contra opposition.

Out is the old Sandinista anthem that said the Yankee was "the enemy of humanity." In is Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" as the party song and friendly words for the U.S. government.

A newly humble Ortega admits he erred while in power. "Yes we made mistakes in the past but these mistakes will never be repeated," he said. "We must learn to forgive in Nicaragua. The moment has arrived for peace, reconciliation and love."

The United States remains unconvinced. A State Department spokesman said he "would not use the word democrat to describe Daniel Ortega" and told reporters: "We remember the past."

Dubbed a "dictator" by then U.S. President Ronald Reagan, Ortega and his Sandinista revolution sparked massive American intervention in Central America in the 1980s to counter what Washington saw as the threat of a Marxist domino effect across the poverty-stricken countries in the region.

Ortega was born in La Libertad, Chontales, 100 miles west of Managua, the son of a shoemaker. He studied law but dropped out in the late 1950s to join the then-proscribed Sandinista Front.

His political philosophy matured during seven years' imprisonment by brutal former dictator Anastasio Somoza, whom Ortega later helped topple in the 1979 Sandinista takeover.

When the Sandinista revolution triumphed in 1979 he became a part of the national reconstruction government along with current President Violeta Chamorro, among others. The broad front government quickly collapsed as the Sandinistas swung to the left and took firm control.

In 1984, Ortega won presidential elections boycotted by most of the opposition. He governed Nicaragua until losing to Mrs. Chamorro in the 1990 presidential elections.

In this year's campaign he has stressed forgiveness rather than revenge. In recent weeks, he toured Nicaragua accompanied by former contra rebels who had signed an alliance with the Sandinistas, embracing his former enemies in front of crowds.

"Here we see a true national reconciliation," he said, trying to leave behind memories of the eight-year civil war in which at least 25,000 people died and the economy was wrecked.

He has maintained his hold on the imagination of the poor, who form the majority of the population. Many Nicaraguans remember the early days of the Sandinista government when the state provided everyone with tortillas and beans and forget the final years when it collapsed, economist Mario Arana said.

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