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Thursday, 8 August, 2002, 09:19 GMT 10:19 UK
Deadly welcome for Colombian head
Damage in Bogota
The mortars struck streets near the parliament
At least 15 people have been killed and nearly 40 wounded in explosions in the Colombian capital Bogota, minutes before Alvaro Uribe was sworn in as the country's president.

Several of the explosions took place in poor Cartucho district a few streets away from the national parliament where Mr Uribe was receiving his presidential sash.

To Colombians I say: Expect action every day, but not miraculous results

Alvaro Uribe
The BBC's Jeremy McDermott in Bogota says that only the Marxist guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have the ability to mount such attacks.

He says the are a sign that the FARC is not intimidated by the new president's pledge to get tough on them and to restore order in the country.

Mr Uribe, a 50-year-old lawyer, won a landslide election victory in May after promising a crackdown but has since warned people not to "expect miracles".

In the past six months there have been three attempts on his life, including one which destroyed cars in his motorcade.

Mr Uribe's father was gunned down by FARC rebels on the family ranch in Antioquia in 1983.

Ring of steel

Mr Uribe did not mention the explosions during his inaugural address.

Alvaro Uribe
Uribe was closely protected at the inauguration
But concerns about possible attacks had led to the ceremony being moved from its traditional outdoor location in Bogota's central colonial plaza into the parliament.

Several regional presidents were attending the inauguration, as well as the heir to the Spanish throne, Prince Felipe, but they were not hurt.

Instead, it was local residents who took the brunt of the injuries, with several children among the dead.

A number of policemen also suffered injuries.

A series of mortar shells were fired, despite the presence of 20,000 soldiers and police, and a US surveillance plane.

Although there was no claim of responsibility, home-made mortars are a weapon frequently used by the FARC.

Long process

The outgoing President, Andres Pastrana, staked his government's reputation on initiating peace talks with the rebels, who have been at war with the Colombian authorities for 38 years.

Soldiers in Bogota
Thousands of soldiers on duty failed to stop the attacks
But his attempts to end the conflict failed, and the cycle of violence has continued.

Mr Uribe has already warned that he will need a "lot of time" to tackle Colombia's problems.

In his address, he pledged to "start an administration which is honest, efficient and austere".

Mr Uribe is seeking a big rise in military spending and more support from the US to combat the drugs trade which finances the country's rebel and paramilitary groups.

In his speech, he also vowed to overhaul the state to tackle "bureaucratic inefficiency" and "corruption which abuses our political customs".

He plans to replace the current Congress with a single-chamber parliament, in order to save money.

But members of Congress have vowed to fight the measure.

President Uribe will also have to tackle a weak economy, and a 16% unemployment rate.

Meanwhile, Mr Pastrana is reportedly planning to move to Spain, where he will write a book on the peace process.

The BBC's Jeremy McDermott
"The guerrillas got within 800 metres of the presidential palace without being stopped"

Key stories



See also:

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