Colombia's FARC temporarily suspend campaign amid angry protests

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia’s former FARC rebel group, now a political party, on Friday temporarily suspended its presidential and legislative election campaigns due to security concerns after angry protests disrupted their campaign stops.

The party, which kept its famous initials by renaming itself the Revolutionary Alternative Common Force, was formed last year after fighters demobilized under a peace deal with the government, ending more than 52 years of war.

Many Colombians remain angry at the FARC, infamous for kidnappings, bombings and displacements, and believe its members should be in prison, not campaigning. Recent opinion polls have shown just 2 percent support for the party, which has focused its 2018 platform on fighting poverty.

“For the moment we have decided to suspend campaign activities until we have sufficient guarantees,” said party leader Pablo Catatumbo. “We ask all parties and political movements, without exception, to reject these type of provocations.”

Catatumbo said the suspension would continue until the government is able to provide adequate security for the candidates.

The FARC has repeatedly raised concerns that they may be assassinated by right-wing paramilitary gangs or drug traffickers, in a replay of about 5,000 targeted killings during the 1980s, when the group first attempted to found the Patriotic Union political party.

Since peace was signed, 50 people associated with the FARC political party have been killed in 44 separate attacks, including 28 former fighters, 12 family members and 10 party activists, according to the attorney general’s office.

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“The government has in place a whole system and a plan to guarantee political participation in this electoral campaign that includes all movements and political parties,” Vice President Oscar Naranjo, former head of the national police, said in a statement.

The party is backing long-time rebel leader Rodrigo Londono, known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, for president. Londono was greeted at campaign events over the weekend by protesters who shouted “murderer, terrorist” as they pelted him and his vehicle with eggs, tomatoes and plastic bottles.

Senate candidate Ivan Marquez, one of 74 FARC members running for legislative posts, canceled an event on Sunday in the southern city of Florencia because of dozens of protesters.

FARC, guaranteed 10 seats in Congress through 2026 under the terms of the peace deal, have accused the right-wing Democratic Center political party, run by former president Alvaro Uribe, of provoking the attacks.

President Juan Manuel Santos has committed to ensuring the FARC’s safety as they campaign and urged Colombians to protest peacefully.

“I ask that we be tolerant and generous between ourselves. I don’t think this is in the interest of democracy and we all must reject these aggressions that some candidates are suffering, especially the FARC candidates,” Santos said on Thursday.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Helen Murphy and Jeffrey Benkoe