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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Colombia Decrees State of Emergency

BOGOTA, Colombia -- Colombia's new president, Alvaro Uribe, declared a limited state of emergency Monday to fight what the government described as a "regime of terror" following an upsurge of violence that has left 100 people dead since he took office.

Uribe, who was sworn in Wednesday accompanied by a salvo of leftist rebel mortar shells in Bogota that killed 20 people, also decreed an emergency tax to allow the government to raise $778.5 million to fund a military build-up.

"The government has decided tonight to declare a state of emergency," Interior and Justice Minister Fernando Londono told reporters during a news conference in the capital Bogota.

Londono did not give specifics about what the state of emergency would entail, but the decree stated it would not include any suspension of constitutional guarantees. The decree is valid for 90 days and can be extended for another 90 days.

The crisis measures, effective immediately, were announced early on Monday after a day-long cabinet meeting called to discuss an escalation of violence that has left 100 dead in clashes between government troops, rebels and paramilitary outlaws since Uribe was inaugurated.

Defense Minister Marta Lucia Ramirez said the emergency tax is designed to create two new elite mobile battalions, totaling up to 3,000 soldiers, and 10,000 new police officers.

Colombia is gripped by a 38-year-old war that pits leftist rebels against outlawed paramilitary fighters and the military. The war claims the lives of thousands of people every year.

Uribe, a 50-year-old, right-wing former regional governor, won a landslide election in May on pledges to boost military spending to crack down on outlaws and restore law and order.

Finance Minister Roberto Junguito said the emergency tax will levy a 1.2 percent tax on the estates of the well-off and of big businesses.

Uribe is a keen proponent of increased U.S. aid, but U.S. congressional leaders have complained in private that wealthy Colombians need to pay more if they want to see peace. Colombia's military spending in terms of gross domestic product is lower than that of many Latin American nations at peace.

The state of emergency, which is permitted under Colombia's 1991 constitution, allows Uribe to legislate by decree, sidestepping congress. Former presidents Cesar Gaviria and Ernesto Samper also decreed state of emergencies to deal with Colombia's long history of violence and drug trafficking.

After reading a catalogue of war crimes that included massacres, kidnappings, forced displacements and the destruction of villages by illegal armed groups, Londono said Colombia's democracy was under threat.

The measures will also add badly needed resources to Colombia's overstretched military.

Despite massive military aid from the United States -- Washington has donated $1.5 billion in aid to Bogota for the war on drugs -- Colombia's state security forces are ill-prepared to contain powerful outlawed groups that increasingly fund their war chests with cocaine money.

Human rights groups fear Uribe's planned massive military drive will sacrifice human rights for security. Uribe, who survived a FARC assassination attempt on the campaign trail, has said he plans to increase military spending by one third.

Rights activists are particularly worried about Uribe's program to create an army of 1 million civilian informers in the lawless countryside to help the military and the police.