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Sunday, August 15, 1999 Published at 04:05 GMT 05:05 UK

World: Americas

Mourners call for end to violence

Mourners filed past Garzon's body lying in state at Congress

Tens of thousands of mourners gathered in the Colombian capital Bogota to pay their respects to one of the country's best-loved comic, Jaime Garzon, who was assassinated on Friday.

BBC's Jermey McDermott in Bogota: Murders are nothing new here, but Garzon's death is different
After a funeral Mass outside the National Cathedral, Garzon's body was buried at a cemetery in northern Bogota as his family and hundreds of ordinary Colombians looked on.

Addressing the mourners from above Garzon's casket on the steps of the cathedral, his sister, Marisol, blamed a "culture of violence" for the killing.

Garzon, who had been working to forward peace efforts with leftist rebels, was shot dead as he drove to the Bogota radio station where he presented a morning show.

Thousands of people, waving white banners with the slogan "No More", gathered in Bolivar Square demonstrating for an end to Colombia's long-running civil war.

[ image: Bolivar Square was packed with mourners chanting
Bolivar Square was packed with mourners chanting "No More"
Thousands more lined the route taken by the funeral procession as it took Garzon's remains to a cemetery in northern Bogota.

A footbridge on Bogota's major north-south highway collapsed under the weight of spectators anticipating the funeral procession's arrival, killing two people and injuring 14.

In an honour usually reserved for top politicians, Garzon's body had been allowed to lie in state in Congress before the funeral.

Before the funeral, Attorney-General Jaime Cuellar addressed the crowd in Bolivar Square and called on "the men of violence" from left and right to stop this "absurd war".

"The only people paying a price of the war are the symbols of the country, like Jaime Garzon", Mr Cuellar said.


The government is offering a reward of 500m pesos ($270,000) for information leading to the killers' arrest.

[ image: Marisol Garzon:
Marisol Garzon: "The result of the culture of violence which has grown this century"
President Andres Pastrana, a long time friend of Garzon's, said: "This is contemptible from all points of view and once again I want to reiterate that Colombians are tired of this type of violence and we must look for reconciliation."

The president had recently appointed Garzon to a peace team looking at ways to start talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the country's second largest rebel group.

Right-wing paramilitaries were initially blamed for the assassination, but have issued a denial.

The largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), is also under suspicion, following reports that its relationship with Garzon had soured.

The government said 600 motorcycles fitting the description of the one used in the killing had been impounded for investigation.

Death threats

The comedian was best known for his stinging send-ups of Colombian personalities.

[ image: Jaime Garzon's: The latest victim of Colombia's dirty war]
Jaime Garzon's: The latest victim of Colombia's dirty war
But he also liaised with leftist rebels to try to secure the release of kidnap victims and had organised guerrilla news conferences in a southern rebel-controlled area.

On Friday, he had been due to leave on a trip to help negotiate the release of hostages held by the ELN.

Colleagues said Garzon had told them, as recently as Thursday, about receiving death threats from right-wing paramilitary militias.

His sister said he had become more careful about his movements lately, although he refused bodyguards.

This has been Colombia's highest-profile assassination since the 1995 killing of Conservative Party leader Alvaro Gomez, allegedly by former members of the military secret service.

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