Colombia's president removes Bogota mayor

Mar 20, 2014 - 09:52
  • A supporter of dismissed Bogota's Mayor Gustavo Petro holds a sign reading "For Peace and Democracy, Petro" during a demonstration after Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced his dismissal on March 19, 2014. PHOTO / AFP

BOGOTA, March 20, 2014 (AFP) - Defying international rights monitors, Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos on Wednesday dismissed Bogota's elected mayor, Gustavo Petro.

Petro claims that the conservative Santos is targeting him, a leftist former guerrilla, for political reasons.

Voicing his outrage, Petro called for a general strike.

"The Colombian people should go on general strike, and peacefully so," to reject the move, Petro told a rally of about 1,500 supporters.

Judges from Colombia's top court on Tuesday upheld an October 28 order by the country's inspector general removing Petro from office over his handling of the city's garbage collection contracts.

The Supreme Court's Council of State dismissed various legal challenges to his removal and said the matter was in the hands of Santos, ready to be enacted.

Earlier Wednesday, an inter-American human rights body had demanded the South American nation drop the order to oust Petro and let him serve out his term.

It also called on Bogota to take "precautionary measures" to guarantee Petro's political rights.

Petro, 53, celebrated the commission's resolution as a "democratic triumph."

But Santos then sacked Petro for good, rejecting the international body's request, and named a replacement, Rafael Pardo Rueda, the current labor minister.

A former leader of the now defunct M-19 guerrilla group, Petro had argued that the example set by his removal from office would have an adverse impact on prospects for peace in Colombia, a country torn by rebel insurgencies for the past half century.

Santos's government is currently holding peace talks in Havana with the FARC, the country's oldest and largest guerrilla group.

Under Colombia's political system, the independent inspector general has the power to remove elected officials for malfeasance.

In Petro's case, the inspector general said Petro had abused his powers by eliminating private garbage collection contracts to replace them with a city-run service.

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