Deadly Explosions Rock Bogota As Uribe Takes Office

Massive explosions shook the buildings near Bogota’s Congress building as Uribe was accepting the oath of office, and witnesses reported seeing at least twelve dead bodies in the streets. Authorities said the bombs were detonated in “Calle de Cartucho,” a dilapidated older neighborhood of Bogota some five blocks from the presidential palace and Congress.

The victims have not been identified yet, though witnesses said they appeared to be homeless people and several security guards.

In the moments following the blasts, army troops immediately sealed off the Cartucho neighborhood. No suspects have been named in the bombings, though authorities believe the country’s largest guerrilla force, the FARC, was responsible. Over the past several days — ahead of Uribe’s inauguration — the FARC unleashed a wave of attacks across the country.

Another explosion elsewhere the city killed at least two people, despite the presence of over 20,000 security guards in Bogota to monitor the city during inauguration ceremonies.

A U.S. surveillance plane watched the closed air space over Bogota for any unauthorized flights. Across the countries, authorities remained on high alert and strict safety measures were imposed during the subdued inauguration ceremonies.

Only around 500 invited guests attended Wednesday’s inauguration ceremony, breaking from Colombia’s tradition of throwing lavish parties for the incoming president.

Uribe said his first act as president would be to present Colombia’s Congress with a referendum bill including broad proposals to reduce federal and state spending and to trim the recently elected congress from two houses into one. That effort would eliminate 118 congressional seats and abolish many congressional privileges.

Such austerity measures could help fund Uribe’s ambitious security agenda to boost military spending by some $1 billion. Uribe hopes to double the number of U.S.-backed security forces to nearly 300,000. If the Congress approves Uribe’s proposals, the country would increase military spending to 4.2 percent of its GDP. Heading the incoming defense ministry is former Minister of Foreign Trade Marta Lucia Ramirez, who will become the world’s first female Minister of Defense.

The U.S. provides Colombia with $1.3 billion to help fight its war on drugs. Colombia, currently the third highest recipient of U.S. aid, has requested additional funding from the Bush administration to help resolve its 38-year old civil war. The U.S. Congress in July approved an anti-terror spending supplemental that would provide millions of dollars in aid for Colombia’s counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics operations.

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