Accused president wants referendum

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The Independent Online
Colombia's President Ernesto Samper, under widespread pressure to resign for allegedly accepting cocaine proceeds, has called for a referendum on whether he should stay in office, writes Phil Davison.

The country's worst political crisis in years erupted this week when Mr Samper's detained former campaign manager and defence minister, Fernando Botero, broke a long silence and said Mr Samper knew the 1994 campaign was taking millions of dollars from the Cali cocaine cartel. Mr Botero's lawyer, Fernando Londono, went further, saying it was Mr Samper who solicited the money.

"Only two people on the campaign had that power, Samper and Botero, and it wasn't Botero," the lawyer said. Mr Samper insists the reverse is true. In a television interview, he said he had confined himself to the political side of the campaign while Mr Botero had handled its administration, including finances.

With the President and his former close friend and aide accusing each other of lying, it has come down to a question of which of them the Colombians believe. One poll said 62 per cent believed Mr Botero while 20 per cent believed Mr Samper. In another, 57 per cent of Colombians said the President should resign.