Colombia's Uribe sworn in to second term as president

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Tuesday, August 8, 2006

President Alvaro Uribe was sworn into his second term of office in the Colombian capital of Bogota, Monday, pledging to improve the economy and make peace with FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) rebels.

Security was tight in order to prevent a repetition of the attack on his first inauguration in 2002 when FARC rebels fired mortars at the presidential palace killing 20.

Police reported deactivating a car bomb outside of the capital on Monday.

In his inaugural speech, Uribe pledged "Fear will not stop us negotiating. I confess my concern is something else - the risk of failing to get peace and slipping back in security."

The event was attended by 11 heads of state, mostly from South America.

Uribe, 54, a free-market conservative from the land-owning class, is seen as one of the few remaing allies of US President George W. Bush on a continent that has seen a swing to the left with the election in recent years of leftists in Brazil and Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Chile. He was re-elected with 62% of the vote in May. He changed the constitution to allow himself to serve two consecutive terms. His first term saw a drop in the number of murders and kidnappings, offensives against the Marxist FARC rebels and an amnesty for right wing paramilitary fighters but there is a widespread feeling that Uribe has failed to militarily defeat the rebels and there is a public mood favouring negotiation. Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in the four decades-long conflict between rebels, the army, and right wing paramilitaries.

Uribe will also face increasing demands for improved security and more social investment. Half of the country's population lives below the poverty line making less than three dollars a day despite an economic boom and 13 million Colombians have no pension.

"We are against a fiscally tight macro-economic policy that leaves economic growth to the luck of supply and demand. The state must be devoted in equal parts to growth and equality," he said in his speech.