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Bomb Blasts Mar Colombian Inauguration - 2002-08-08

A series of bomb blasts marred the inauguration today of Colombia's new hard-line president, Alvaro Uribe Velez. Police say at least 17 people died in the explosions and 69 were injured. Three of the bombs exploded just blocks from the congressional building where President Uribe was sworn in. Helicopter gunships thundered overhead, but the president appeared calm, and made no reference to the bombings during his inaugural address.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but authorities strongly suspect the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

As a hard-line independent, Mr. Uribe has been a tough critic of the insurgents, and he promises to combat the rebel groups.

The bombers defied extremely tight security that was in effect throughout the day. Thousands of government troops patrolled Bogota's streets and a U.S. surveillance plane policed the skies.

Mr. Uribe is taking power during one of the most critical and chaotic periods in his country's history. Unemployment stands at 16 percent, political corruption is widespread and Columbia's 38-year civil conflict seems to be spinning out of control.

"This conflict needs non-conventional, transparent and imaginative solutions," Mr. Uribe said during his speech. "Either the conflict ends, or it has the potential to de-stabilize the region."