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Monday, 15 April, 2002, 06:03 GMT 07:03 UK
Bomb targets Colombian candidate
Damage caused by blast in Barranquilla
The bomb was detonated by remote control
Presidential frontrunner Alvaro Uribe Velez has escaped unhurt from a explosion that killed three people in the northern town of Barranquilla.

The blast is believed to be the third assassination attempt on the hardline right-winger who looks set to win Colombia's leadership elections next month.

Alvaro Uribe Velez
Uribe Velez: Alleged links with right-wing paramilitaries
At least 13 people were injured when the roadside bomb was detonated by remote control as Mr Uribe Velez's armoured car left a campaign stop at a public market in the Caribbean coast city.

The BBC correspondent in Colombia's capital, Bogota, said suspicion for the attack has fallen immediately on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) which detests Mr Uribe Velez and has twice tried to kill him.

Initially police had said the bomb had been hidden on a bus.

But they later said the bus had been caught in the blast when a bomb under a bridge was detonated as Mr Uribe's convoy drove over it.

The candidate appeared on television shortly after the attack to say he was unhurt.

"It must have been a very powerful explosive because I was travelling in the most heavily armoured kind of vehicle, and the vehicle was destroyed," he said.

"But thank God, here we are, talking."

Politicians kidnapped

The attack came three days after suspected FARC guerrilla kidnapped 12 state legislators from an assembly meeting in the western city of Cali by posing as bomb squad officers helping to evacuate them.

Troops are still looking for the politicians, believed to be being held in mountains outside the city.

Violence has been rising in Colombia since February when the government ended a three-year peace process with FARC.

Death threats
April 2002: Bus bomb in Barranquilla
January 2002: Snipers plan shooting
September 2001: Bible-bomb plot foiled
Mr Uribe Velez acknowledged the state of the country but called on his supporters to show "calmness, patience and stability in the face of these acts".

He said: "Colombia needs governments with authority to rein in violence.

"This is what happens to Colombians every day."

He has threatened an all-out war against the rebels should he become president.

FARC rebels posing as bomb squad officers
FARC guerrillas posed as bomb squad officers to kidnap 12 legislators in Cali
Last January police arrested two snipers in the northern city of Medellin who said they were planning to assassinate Mr Uribe Velez.

In September, four alleged FARC members were arrested in a plot to put a suitcase containing Bibles stuffed with explosives at a favourite meeting place of Mr Uribe Velez in Bogota.

Running for president of Colombia can be deadly. During the 1990 campaign, three candidates were assassinated by drugs traffickers and right-wing paramilitaries.

Mr Uribe Velez, a 49-year-old Oxford and Harvard-educated lawyer, claims there have been 15 attempts on his life. He employs 120 bodyguards.

The latest opinion poll showed support for Mr Uribe Velez at 51% - a 22-point lead over his nearest rival.

The BBC's Jeremy McDermott reports from Medellin
"Running for president has always been a risky business in Colombia"
See also:

04 Jan 02 | Americas
New plot against Colombian candidate
26 Feb 02 | Americas
Outrage at Colombian kidnap
21 Feb 02 | Americas
Colombian army moves against rebels
15 Feb 02 | Americas
Timeline: Colombia
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