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Colombia blasts kill 13 as Uribe takes office

Capital rocked as new president sworn in

Police try to clear the site of an explosion in downtown Bogota.  

BOGOTA, Colombia (CNN) -- Several explosions rocked downtown Bogota on Wednesday, killing at least 13 people just before Colombian President Alvaro Uribe -- who has vowed to crack down on leftist rebels -- took office.

The four blasts occurred a few blocks from Colombia's Congress building as Uribe and his wife were walking up the building's steps for his inauguration.

The army quickly cordoned off the area, sending in armored personnel carriers while helicopters hovered overhead. An outdoor ceremony that was to follow the inauguration was abruptly canceled.

Police said preliminary indications were that the blasts may have been gas cylinders turned into bombs -- a method that has been used by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in the past. Other reports blamed the explosions on mortar shells fired by rebels.

CNN's Harris Whitbeck reports seven rockets hit as Alvaro Uribe arrived at the capital to be sworn in as Colombia's president (August 7)

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Earlier, three other small bombs had gone off in different locations near a military cadet academy in Bogota, slightly wounding six people.

Security had been extremely tight in the capital amid threats by FARC to disrupt the inauguration and amid unconfirmed police reports that rebels had planned to crash a plane into the parliament building. Bogota's airspace was closed as a result.

The United States condemned the explosions, "which were obviously intended to sow death, destruction and fear among Colombians during the important democratic transition taking place there today," said State Department spokesman Philip Reeker. "Given the high-level attendance by foreign dignitaries, this heinous terrorist act also shows contempt for democratic leaders throughout the hemisphere."

In his inaugural address Uribe -- a former mayor and state governor who has promised a crackdown on leftist rebels -- urged Colombians to "retake the law in their hearts again."

"The democratic freedom lost in certain parts of our history and our nation, the trust and solidarity have gone down," Uribe, 50, said in his inaugural speech. "Everybody is distrustful of their own neighbors and especially the state."

The new president said the nation must do more to stop kidnappings by guerrilla groups -- about 3,000 a year.

Uribe addresses Congress wearing the presidential sash following his inauguration.  

"Every kidnapping brings great grief," he said. "In four years, it will be impossible to solve everything, but we will not undermine any effort. It's my obligation, to the 80 percent of my fellow Colombians who are young, so they may have a future."

During his campaign, Uribe vowed to boost safety and security in the country, which has been locked in a nearly four-decades-long war with various rebel factions, the most prominent of which is FARC.

He also said he wants to double the size of the Colombian army and recruit 1 million civilians who would participate in a network of informants, with the nation's intelligence agency, against rebel groups.

In April, FARC was suspected in a bombing that narrowly missed Uribe as he campaigned for president. The bomb exploded in a parked bus in the northern coastal city of Barranquilla as Uribe and an entourage passed by.

FARC also increased its attacks on military targets in the countryside in the months leading up to the inauguration.


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