Mayor of Colombia's capital removed from post

Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro shakes hands with residents of the "El Bronx" district after a security meeting in Bogota
Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro shakes hands with residents of the "El Bronx" district after a security meeting in Bogota April 1, 2013. REUTERS/John Vizcaino

BOGOTA (Reuters) - The leftist mayor of Colombia's capital of Bogota was removed from his post on Monday for the mismanagement of garbage collection and banned from holding office for 15 years, a blow to the nation's left as peace talks continue with Marxist FARC rebels.

The inspector general ruled that former guerrilla Gustavo Petro, who as Bogota mayor held Colombia's second-most powerful political post, badly handled changes to waste management in the city of 8 million people, creating a health hazard as rubbish piled up on the streets last year. The ruling can be appealed.

Petro, 53, who was a member of the now-defunct leftist M-19 rebel movement, quipped that he would not be able to hold office again until he was 68 years old and called the decision a coup.

"It's a life sentence," Petro said shortly after hearing the news. "Here a message is being sent to the nation, to all mayors, that attempts to take back public power is a crime, a felony or an irregularity."

He called for peaceful protests against the ruling.

The decision is a blow to the nation's political left just as progress is being made in peace talks with Marxist FARC rebels to end five decades of war in the Andean nation.

"It was proved that the decisions of the mayor of Bogota violated the principle of free competition and put at risk the environment and the health of its citizens," Inspector General Alejandro Ordonez told reporters.

Petro, who was elected mayor in 2011, ran a city with an annual budget of about $7 billion.

(Reporting by Helen Murphy, Nelson Bocanegra, Peter Murphy and Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Eric Beech)