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Santos leads march for peace in Colombia

imageBOGOTA: Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos led a march for peace through Bogota Tuesday, calling for an end to decades of armed conflict at a time when peace talks in Havana are under fire from his predecessor Alvaro Uribe.

Hundreds of soldiers joined Santos and his cabinet ministers at the Plaza of the Fallen Heroes, one of seven starting points for the march by thousands of people, many of them in white T-shirts and carrying white flags.

"We have to end this nightmare of 65 years," said Santos, referring to the 1948 assassination of liberal leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, which ignited a long period of political unrest known as "La Violencia."

Santos has opened peace talks with the FARC, a leftist guerrilla group founded in 1964 that grew out of the lawlessness and ideological divisions of the period along with right-wing paramilitary groups and drug trafficking organizations.

But Santos' peace overtures have encountered stiff resistance from Uribe, a conservative hardliner who sought to destroy the FARC militarily during his 2002-2010 presidency, in which Santos served as defense minister.

On Monday, Santos accused his former boss of trying to sabotage the peace talks by disclosing on his Twitter account precise locations where rebel leaders were to leave Colombia for Havana under a military safe conduct.

Most political parties and a variety of civic organizations support the peace march, but Uribe denounced it as "legitimizing the terrorism of the FARC."

The leftist Democratic Pole also has refused to endorse the march, seeing it as a vehicle for Santos' reelection in 2014. But some of its leaders were taking part.

"Peace is the victory of any soldier. Peace is the victory of any policeman. If we reconcile, we will have a better homeland," Santos said.

Marchers, bearing signs with the slogan "We are a generation of peace," were to converge on Bogota's central Plaza Bolivar at noon, when bells will ring in churches across the country.

Their arrival was to be followed by a concert and a reading of "A prayer for peace" by Colombian writer William Ospina. Marches also were organized in other Colombian cities.

Half a century of armed conflict in Colombia is estimated to have left 600,0000 dead, 15,000 missing, and 3.7 million people displaced by fighting.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2013