Saturday, April 26, 2008

Colombia's Uribe defends his record on trade union murders

BOGOTA — Beset by a political scandal at home and tense relations with his left-wing neighbors, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is determined to beat the political odds and secure a prized free-trade agreement with the United States.

In a 50-minute interview, Uribe rattled off data to argue that trade unionists in Colombia are safer now than before -- hoping to neutralize a key argument by opponents to stall the deal.

His comments came amid new official figures showing a sudden rise of labor union murders earlier this year after significant declines in the past four years. Colombian officials said the latest rise in murders may be a statistical blip, and that the overall trend points at progress in the crackdown on violence against labor union leaders.

Uribe said his government's revamping of the justice system, the doubling of prosecutors' budgets, and major financial rewards for citizens who provide information leading to convictions contributed to a record 122 accused killers being held in prison, and 96 convictions.

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