Thu, May 24, 2012 - Page 7 News List

Bomb found at Uribe speech venue

’NOT VERY SERIOUS’?An official said the cellphone-activated device had been found hidden in a lamp at a venue where Uribe had been scheduled to hold a cocktail party

AFP, Buenos Aires

Authorities found and deactivated a bomb on Tuesday in a Buenos Aires theater where former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe was due to deliver a speech.

Uribe, known for tough law-and-order policies during his 2002 to 2010 presidency, was scheduled to speak at the Grand Rex theater in downtown Buenos Aires yesterday and said he still intended to honor the engagement.

Theater security and maintenance personnel found the bomb on the second floor, where Uribe planned “to host a cocktail party with many personalities” after a press conference, investigating Judge Norberto Oyarbide told reporters.

A justice official said the cellphone-activated bomb was hidden in a lamp.

Speaking to reporters at the entrance to the theater, Oyarbide said the bomb “was simple, but large enough to kill people who were very close to it.”

Federal police rushed explosives experts to the site and closed off traffic for more than an hour on the busy Corrientes Avenue, outside the theater, one of the largest in the Argentine capital.

After an exhaustive search to check for any other devices, about 30 police officers remained at the entrance, stopping anyone from entering the building.

The damage to Argentina’s reputation “would have been very large” had the bomb detonated, Oyarbide said after inspecting the room.

Meanwhile, Argentine Federal Police spokesman Nestor Rodriguez downplayed the potential strength of the device, which he said was designed “to create a stir” more than anything else.

The scheduled WOM -Leadership -symposium 2012 — a day of speeches and workshops for leaders and entrepreneurs — costs US$220 per ticket. Uribe, 59, would deliver his speech, titled “The Transformation of Colombia,” as scheduled, Oyarbide said.

Also slated to talk were Manuel Estiarte, institutional relations chief at soccer club FC Barcelona, and the artistic director of Canada’s Cirque du Soleil, Guy Caron.

Leftist groups have called on supporters to hold a protest rally against Uribe’s speech.

In Bogota, Colombian Minister of Defense Juan Carlos Pinzon said the device had apparently not posed a massive threat, calling it “not very serious.”

However, he added “we reject any terrorist act, no matter how -minor it may be. [Former] president Uribe has our full support, there is no reason for this.”

During his presidency, Uribe secured a controversial peace deal with Colombian right-wing paramilitary forces that led to the demobilization of 30,000 fighters and launched peace talks with the leftist National Liberation Army guerrillas.

However, the country’s largest leftist rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), rejected negotiations and derided Uribe as a warmonger.

Several foreign leftists have spent time with the FARC over the years, including Argentine national Facundo Morares — code-named Camilo — the Colombian military said last year.

Uribe’s hardline policies against Colombia’s leftist guerrillas resulted in a wave of complaints about human rights abuses against the armed forces.

Although Uribe left office with high approval ratings, details about domestic spying on journalists, judges and opposition politicians, as well as corruption among supporters, have emerged in recent years.

A string of former top officials from his administration have been put on trial, including former chief of staff Bernardo Moreno and former Argentine minister of agriculture Andres Felipe Arias, a friend of the former president.

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