Colombia's president names five new ministers, including energy

BOGOTA Thu Sep 5, 2013 9:38pm EDT

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos speaks during a Reuters interview at the presidential palace in Bogota August 8, 2013. REUTERS/Jose Miguel Gomez

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos speaks during a Reuters interview at the presidential palace in Bogota August 8, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jose Miguel Gomez

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BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos named five new ministers on Thursday to strengthen his government ahead of presidential elections next year and after heavy criticism of his handling of a protest in the farming sector that turned violent last week.

The entire cabinet resigned on Monday, a standard procedure before the president shuffles his cabinet.

Santos named Amylkar Acosta as energy minister, Aurelio Iragorri as interior minister, Alfonso Gomez Mendez as justice minister, Ruben Dario Risaralde as agriculture minister and Luz Helena Sarmiento as environment minister.

While Santos has not yet announced whether he will stand for a second term in May, he has said he wants his policies to continue in the next administration.

Approval for the center-right Santos slumped in the latest Gallup opinion poll taken at the most agitated point of the farm protest last week and as Colombians become weary of scant progress in peace talks with Marxist FARC rebels.

Santos' public approval more than halved to 21 percent from 48 percent at the end of June.

Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas kept his post as did Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon and Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin.

The joint resignations came just days after Santos was forced to send troops to patrol the streets of Bogota when farmer-led protests became violent and caused havoc across the capital. The nationwide dispute led to the deaths of five people.

(Reporting by Helen Murphy and Luis Jaime Acosta; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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