Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Colombia: Uribe's cousin arrested in Costa Rican embassy

Colombian former senator Mario Uribe (C) covers his face while being escorted by prosecutors after leaving Costa Rica's embassy in Bogota April 22, 2008. (Photo: REUTERS/John Vizcaino)By Patrick Markey

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombian prosecutors arrested President Alvaro Uribe's cousin on Tuesday as authorities probed his suspected ties to paramilitary death squads in a deepening political scandal for the key U.S. ally.

The investigation of Mario Uribe, a longtime senator and presidential confidant, is expected to fuel concerns among U.S. Democrats who oppose a Colombian trade pact because of human rights abuses and lingering influence of ex-paramilitaries.

Jostling with screaming protesters, police spirited Mario Uribe away from the Costa Rican Embassy, where the former lawmaker had earlier sought political asylum after the attorney general's office ordered him arrested on charges he conspired with militia commanders.

The ex-senator had earlier asked for political asylum in the embassy, but San Jose rejected the petition as "inappropriate" because he had an outstanding warrant.

A second cousin to the president and a former congressional leader, Mario Uribe was ordered detained after testimony from paramilitary warlords that he asked them to back his senate campaign and help him secure cheap farmland.

The former lawmaker has previously denied any wrongdoing.

The arrest warrant for Sen. Mario Uribe hurts me, but it is a pain I will accept with patriotism and without avoiding the fulfillment of my responsibilities," the president said in a brief statement before his cousin's arrest.

(Additional reporting by John McPhaul in Costa Rica, editing by Philip Barbara)

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