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Colombian Cabinet Member to Resign

November 6, 2003

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Colombia’s interior and justice minister said Thursday he was resigning, a day after he set off a clash with congress by suggesting the president might call new elections.

Fernando Londono, who occupies the top post in hard-line President Alvaro Uribe’s Cabinet, made his surprise announcement at a seminar on terrorism.

``This act, loaded with so much emotion for me and which has great significance for me, is the last one I will attend as minister of justice and interior,″ Londono said.

Londono, who also is Uribe’s main liaison with congress, caused an uproar Wednesday by warning Conservative Party lawmakers who back the president that Colombia would be plunged into a ``political crisis″ if they refused to approve his proposed reforms.

Londono warned that if that happened, Uribe might quit and call early elections. Members of congress accused Londono of bullying lawmakers and called for Uribe, an independent who draws support from many factions in congress, to clarify his position.

Uribe’s spokesman then contradicted Londono, telling The Associated Press later Wednesday that ``it is not true that President Alvaro Uribe is contemplating the possibility of resigning or convoking early elections.″

In radio talk shows Thursday, Londono said he would continue to serve in the Cabinet as long as Uribe would have him.

Londono did not say at the terrorism seminar if he was fired or was forced to resign.

Critics saw Londono as arrogant and inflexible. He had previously sparked resentment among members of congress by accusing lawmakers who did not back the administration of smoking marijuana.

His departure comes as Uribe is still recovering from the defeat of an Oct. 25 referendum that would have barred convicted criminals from holding public office, cut the size of congress and freed more money for the war against leftist rebels by freezing state salaries and pensions.

Uribe was elected in a landslide last year on pledges to crack down on leftist rebels and on corruption.

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