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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Colombian Referendum Idea Blasted

BOGOTA, Colombia -- Saying a referendum would cost millions of dollars and maybe even lead to civil war, critics Thursday rejected President Ernesto Samper's call for a popular vote to decide if he should leave office over charges he accepted drug money.


Trying to stave off political ruin, Samper continues to deny any knowledge of drug money entering his campaign -- even after his jailed former campaign chief, Fernando Botero, insisted that he knew.


His proposal Wednesday was widely rejected as a ruse to dodge justice. In the worst case, critics said, a vote could provoke bloodshed.


"A popular vote of that kind would engender a confrontation close to civil war in which it's possible the armed forces would have to intervene to restore peace," said Alfonso Lopez Michelsen, who was president from 1974 to 1978.


Attorney General Orlando Vasquez Velasquez said the constitution forbids a popular referendum on the future of the president.


A referendum would cost $20 million and take six months to organize, said Oscar Jimenez, president of the National Electoral Council.


Two more members of Samper's cabinet, Transportation Minister Juan Gomez and Foreign Trade Minister Luis Alfredo Ramos, resigned Thursday. The health minister stepped down earlier this week because of the crisis.


Calls for Samper's resignation have continued since Botero's explosive declarations. On Thursday, the opposition Conservative Party asked members to quit Samper's government. Hours later the two Cabinet members, both Conservatives, resigned. One Conservative minister remains in the 15-member Cabinet.


Samper has rejected calls for his resignation since Botero's explosive declarations Monday.


The former campaign manager and defense minister said the candidate knew his 1994 campaign took millions of dollars from the Cali drug cartel, the world's main supplier of cocaine. Botero's lawyer said Samper engineered the contributions.


Samper has accused Botero of lying to save himself.


Polls indicate most people believe Samper is lying. A television news program compared his dilemma to the Watergate scandal and the resignation of U.S. President Richard Nixon. "Time to Pack Up," read a headline in one opposition newspaper.