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Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2007, 18:39 GMT
Colombian foreign minister quits
Maria Consuelo Araujo
Ms Araujo said she had informed the president on Sunday night
Colombia's Foreign Minister Maria Consuelo Araujo has resigned following the arrest of her brother on suspicion of links with paramilitary groups.

Last week, Senator Alvaro Araujo became the highest-ranking politician to be detained as part of the inquiry.

Correspondents say Ms Araujo's resignation deals another blow to a president already under pressure over his allies' ties to paramilitaries.

Right-wing armed groups are accused of drug trafficking and massacres.

They have been involved in a long-running conflict with state forces and left-wing rebel forces. Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in the fighting.

Senator Araujo's arrest was ordered last Thursday by the Supreme Court, along with those of five other members of the coalition that backs the government.

My conviction that my father and brother are innocent forces me to leave
Maria Consuelo Araujo

Ms Araujo's father is also being investigated for alleged paramilitary links.

She said she was stepping down in order to help prove their innocence

"I am leaving... because I can see clearly that the judicial process must be free of any interference.

"My conviction that my father and brother are innocent forces me to leave (office) so that I am free to be on their side and to support them as a daughter and a sister."

Evidence

Ms Araujo said she had informed President Alvaro Uribe of her decision on Sunday night.

There had been growing calls for her to step down following the arrest of her brother.

Mr Uribe had defended his foreign minister, saying Ms Araujo should remain in the post because she "had nothing to do with the crimes being investigated".

Senator Araujo's arrest was ordered last Thursday by the Supreme Court, along with those of five other members of the coalition that backs the government.

Three other lawmakers were jailed in November for links to paramilitaries.

Some of the evidence against politicians came from a laptop belonging to a senior paramilitary warlord known as Jorge 40, or Rodrigo Tovar Pupo.

Despite the scandal, the president's popularity remains at 70%, recent opinion polls suggest.






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