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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Blasts Mar Inauguration in Bogota

BOGOTA, Colombia -- Rebel mortars rained on Bogota, killing 14 people and injuring more than 60, as Colombia's guerrillas fired their opening salvo against new hard-line President Alvaro Uribe on his inauguration day.

Three mortar shells exploded just blocks from the congress building a few moments before Uribe was sworn in Wednesday. Two other mortar rounds hit the building next to the presidential palace, wounding a policeman, who staggered, bloodied, from the scene.

Rebels also sent mortar shells crashing into a military installation in northern Bogota and set off several small bombs, injuring six people. A mortar attack aimed at a military base in central Colombia hit 20 houses and a school instead, but there was no immediate word on casualties.

Late Wednesday, one person died trying to set off a car bomb in Cali, Colombia's third-largest city, and seven people were injured in two other explosions, police General Luis Alfredo Rodriguez told reporters.

The attacks were the rebels' first show of force against Uribe, who has promised to bring the guerrillas to their knees on the battlefield.

Bogota Mayor Antanas Mockus said two of the houses used to launch the attacks were rented two weeks ago, suggesting a well-planned assault. Mockus said intercepted radio communications implicated the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in the attacks.

"The FARC did this, but Uribe is going to make them sorry. They will pay," said Maria Luz Valenzuela, whose home was rattled by the blasts.

The attacks occurred despite tight security in Bogota ahead of the inauguration. Combat helicopters and spy planes circled over the parliament building, roads were closed and the traditionally outdoor inauguration ceremony in the colonial central plaza was moved inside the parliament building.

"It's worrisome that this happened while 25,000 soldiers and police were deployed in the city," congressman Antonio Navarro told Radionet.

With the slogan "Firm hand, big heart," Uribe has promised to take a hard line with the 16,000-member FARC and another rebel group waging a 38-year war against the state.

Some 3,500 people die every year in the war. Uribe's own father was killed by rebels during a kidnapping attempt and the new president has survived more than half a dozen assassination attempts, including a deadly attack on his motorcade during the campaign.

Uribe plans a massive military buildup but insists his vows to hammer the rebels on the battlefield are not motivated by revenge. He's also promised to take on right-wing militias as well as the drug traffickers who finance both groups.

He didn't mention Wednesday's attacks in his brief inaugural address, instead sticking to a prepared speech that detailed all the country's ills: high unemployment and crushing poverty, bureaucratic inefficiency and waste, drug trafficking and finally, the war.

"We want peace," he declared simply.

Diminutive and bespectacled, Uribe cuts an odd figure leading the country into a stepped-up war. But he has aroused high expectations among a populace exhausted by decades of violence.

A poll published in El Tiempo newspaper Wednesday gave Uribe a 77 percent approval rating. The poll had a margin of error of 3 percent. Of the 1,038 people surveyed, 98 percent said violence and insecurity were the most important problems facing the country.

"We are a country at war. Hopefully Uribe can fulfill his promises to end this mess," said Ramon Herrera, a salesman who heard Wednesday's explosions from his home about 25 blocks away.

In his speech, Uribe highlighted what he would try to do, but he was careful not to promise miracles.

"We will start an administration that is honest, efficient and austere," he said. "It cannot work miracles, but it will work."

He has not said he will defeat the rebels, but rather that he will fight them on the battlefield, setting the stage for renewed peace talks in which the government will have the advantage. His predecessor, Andres Pastrana, tried for three years to negotiate a peace deal with the FARC, but the talks broke down in February without achieving substantial results.

"The world must understand that this conflict requires unconventional, imaginative and transparent solutions," he said.