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Colombia president reinstates ousted Bogota mayor

Wednesday - 4/23/2014, 8:44pm  ET

Bogota's mayor Gustavo Petro greets his dog Bacata, as he walks to city hall in Bogota, Colombia, Wednesday, April 23, 2014. Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos reinstated Petro following a court order. Petro was removed from office in March after President Juan Manuel Santos refused to heed the Inter-American Human Rights Commission's call for a stay on the Inspector General's ouster of the mayor months earlier for alleged administrative missteps. (AP Photo/Nestor Silva)

JOSHUA GOODMAN
Associated Press

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) -- Colombia's capital changed hands for a third time in little over a month after President Juan Manuel Santos executed a court order reinstating Bogota's ousted leftist mayor.

The surprise ruling late Tuesday by the Superior Tribunal of Bogota was the latest twist in a legal saga pitting former guerrilla firebrand Gustavo Petro against Colombia's more conservative political establishment.

"My obligation, as president of the republic, is to follow the law and what the justices decide," President Juan Manuel Santos said after signing a decree ordering the immediate reinstatement of Petro as mayor.

The court, in giving Santos 48 hours to return Petro to his job, cited the president's failure last month to heed a ruling by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission that Colombia's inspector general violated regional human rights charter by ordering Petro's removal and barring him from politics for 15 years.

In ordering Petro's ouster in December, Inspector General Alejandro Ordonez said Petro overstepped his constitutional authority in a heavy-handed but ultimately failed attempt to replace the capital's private trash collectors. Petro has denied any wrongdoing and accuses Ordonez of mounting a witch hunt against politicians who don't share his conservative views.

Surrounded by supporters, reporters and police, Petro marched to the mayor's office Wednesday night to retake his post.

But there was little time to celebrate: As soon as he arrived came news that half of Bogota's 8 million residents were without water after a gate at one of the three reservoirs supplying the city with fresh water broke down for unknown reasons.

"Tomorrow first thing in the morning I'll go personally to oversee the repair work," a sober-looking Petro said in his first comments back on the job.

Petro, 54, took over from acting Mayor Maria Mercedes Maldonado, who Santos had named this week to replace another caretaker, Rafael Pardo.

His job is far from secure, however. Ordonez said he will appeal Petro's reinstatement to the country's Supreme Court as early as Thursday.

An April 6 recall vote that was cancelled after his removal could also be rescheduled.

Jaime Castro, a former mayor of Bogota, said the legal back and forth has made a mockery of Colombia's justice system and created a power vacuum in the management of Colombia's biggest city. Of the more than 30 injunction requests filed on Petro's behalf since his removal, this is the first to come back in Petro's favor, he said.

"This is a judicial farce, like something you'd see in a banana republic," Castro told The Associated Press.

But human rights activists applauded the decision, saying Santos' action restores respect for international human rights law.

The decision may also help Santos remove what had become a political thorn as he seeks re-election next month amid criticism he was too quick to sign off on Petro's ouster.

Santos, a centrist from one of Colombia's richest families, is counting on support from leftist parties to push through Congress a bold peace deal that his government is negotiating in Cuba with the country's largest rebel movement.

___

Associated Press writer Cesar Garcia contributed to this report.


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