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Colombia rounds up beggars ahead of Clinton visit

BOGOTA, Bogota (Reuters) -- Colombian authorities have rounded up some 300 street children and beggars in the Caribbean coastal resort of Cartagena and banished them to its outskirts ahead of U.S. President Bill Clinton's visit next week, local media said on Monday.

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Clinton will meet President Andres Pastrana in the colonial walled city of Cartagena on Aug. 30 to discuss details of a record $1.3 billion U.S. aid package to help Colombia fight the booming drug trade and powerful Communist guerrillas.

Citing Jaime Ospino, head of the government's Family Welfare Institute, the El Espectador newspaper said children and adult beggars were being taken to "recreation centers" on the outskirts of the city prior to Clinton's trip.

He did not specify what the centres were or whether the group, who normally eke out an income begging from tourists or selling trinkets, were attending voluntarily.

Cartagena was once Spain's largest port in the New World. The resort is one of war-torn Colombia's top tourist magnets but is also widely regarded as a focus for child prostitution and sex tourism.

The resort is also home to one of the largest internal refugee communities, known as Nelson Mandela City, in northern Colombia. Across the country, more than 1.1 million people have fled their homes to escape the effects of the long-running war between rebels, state security forces and outlaw anti-Communist paramilitary squads.

Diplomatic sources see the choice of Cartagena for Clinton's visit as a tacit admission that the government does not have full control of the capital Bogota where guerrilla factions and notoriously violent drug mobs have over the past year detonated car bombs.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



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