Colombian official confirms ouster of Bogota's leftist mayor

Helen Murphy
Bogota mayor Gustavo Petro speaks during a rally at the Plaza de Bolivar in Bogota December 9, 2013. REUTERS/Fredy Builes

By Helen Murphy

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia's inspector general confirmed on Monday the ouster of Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro, despite weeks of protest over the move and widespread support for the former leftist rebel.

Petro appealed the December 9 decision, and has since rallied tens of thousands to central Plaza Bolivar to protest his removal from Colombia's second-most powerful post and a 15-year ban from holding political office.

The nation's chief inspector, Alejandro Ordonez, rejected the appeal on Monday, saying its disciplinary chamber had found him responsible for "three serious errors in the implementation of the new cleanup model in the city of Bogota."

Ordonez removed Petro from office after ruling the mayor mishandled changes to garbage collection in the city of 8 million. Ordonez said it created a health hazard as rubbish piled up on the streets in 2012.

Petro, a former member of the defunct M-19 rebel movement, claims his removal is a politically motivated coup by the right-wing Ordonez and a sign that Marxist FARC rebels would not easily be incorporated into the political system if ongoing peace talks are successful. Talks between the Colombian government and FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, are currently being hosted in Havana, Cuba.

From his Twitter account, Petro called on Bogota residents to "permanently mobilize" against the decision.

Petro's 2011 election as Bogota mayor was seen as proof that politics is the way forward for rebel movements. FARC is working through a five-point agenda with the government to bring an end to 50 years of conflict that has killed more than 200,000 people.

FARC leaders have said the decision to fire Petro could affect the peace process in Cuba even after a November agreement was reached on the group's inclusion into the Colombian political system.

While Petro's popularity had slumped over the past year as many Bogotanos considered his administration inefficient, some residents and politicians saw the 15-year ban on holding office as harsh, given that he had been one of the nation's most high-profile politicians.

Others questioned how an elected official can be ousted from office by another official.

It is not clear when new elections will be held or when Petro will leave the mayor's office.

An economist and former congressman, the 53-year-old Petro ran a city with an annual budget of about $7 billion. Ordonez said he had damaged free competition by giving a state company - with no experience in waste collection - the contract to clear garbage.

Jailed for his rebel activities in the 1980s after joining M-19 as a university student, Petro was among the most vocal legislators in denouncing corruption and congressional ties to right-wing paramilitaries.

While the M-19 disarmed at the end of the 1980s, the drug-funded FARC remains active throughout the country.

(Reporting by Helen Murphy and Amanda Kwan)