A Colombian opposition leader has accused President Alvaro Uribe of supporting anti-crime groups in the 1990s that evolved into powerful death squads.

Senator Gustavo Petro told a congressional debate Tuesday that Mr. Uribe supported the anti-crime groups while serving as the governor of Antioquia state from 1995 to 1997.

Petro says the civilian self-defense program, known as Convivir, was infiltrated by drug smugglers and members of far-right paramilitaries, evolving into death squads that killed in the name of fighting leftist rebels.

Petro triggered a scandal last year when he accused Colombia's establishment of having ties with death squads.  Mr. Uribe has denied any connection with the illegal groups, saying he is fighting all of Colombia's armed groups.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.