- Greek parties ignore appeal for rapid compromise
- Colombians cheer killing of guerrilla kingpin
- Could rebel leader's death clinch Colombia peace?
ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece's ruling socialists and opposition conservatives offered rival plans for saving the nation from bankruptcy and safeguarding its euro zone membership, ignoring an appeal from the president to cooperate now on tackling the mess.
For Prime Minister George Papandreou, only a coalition government ruling for at least several months can set Greece on the road to national salvation and secure a financial lifeline from international lenders before the money runs out.
But the conservative opposition flatly rejected the idea, offering its competing vision of snap elections -- and demanding Papandreou's resignation after two years of grappling with economic, political and social crisis.
All this disregarded an appeal by President Karolos Papoulias for the opposing sides of Greek politics to overcome their differences and get to work solving a crisis which risks wrecking international faith in the entire euro project.
"Consensus is the one and only way," Papoulias told the prime minister when he went to the presidential palace to launch his drive for a coalition government.
At immediate stake is the fate of Greece's 130 billion euro bailout, agreed by euro zone leaders to keep Athens afloat, and restore confidence on global financial markets that the euro zone nations can handle a crisis that could afflict much bigger economies such as Italy and Spain.
NOT GOOD AT COMPROMISE
On Sunday the president will meet Antonis Samaras, who heads the conservative New Democracy party, as he tries to nudge the party politicians into something they are not good at -- compromise.
Papandreou's socialist cabinet is due to meet informally also on Sunday, as his PASOK party searches for support among the smaller parties, with Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos playing a leading role.
Only a week ago the bailout deal seemed in the bag, but then Papandreou dropped a bombshell by announcing he would hold a referendum on the package -- which demands yet another wave of austerity be imposed on the long-suffering Greek population.
With the deal threatening to unravel, Germany and France told Papandreou that Greece would receive not one cent more in aid unless it fulfilled its side of the bargain.
Papandreou retreated on the referendum, but only after German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Greece must make up its mind whether it wanted to stay in the euro or not.
A CHASTENED PAPANDREOU
Chastened, Papandreou was forced to signal that he was willing to stand down. He himself raised the spectre of Greece's future in the euro.
"My aim is to immediately create a government of cooperation," he said at the presidential palace. "A lack of consensus would worry our European partners over our country's will to stay in the euro zone."
Here he hit a raw nerve. Greeks have fought tooth and nail against the spending cuts and tax rises demanded by their international lenders in the euro zone and IMF, with some protests turning violent on the streets of Athens.
But there is also a widespread fear that Greece might be forced out of the euro and will have to go it alone with a revived national currency.
"Europeans don't trust us anymore, they will throw us out," said Tassos Pagonis, a 48-year-old Athens taxi driver. "I hope we don't return to the drachma."
The opposition showed little sign of giving ground.
"We ask for a short-term transitional government in order to restore a sense of stability and then the country goes to the polls," said Samaras. "We did not seek a role in this government, only that Mr. Papandreou, who has become dangerous for the country, resigns."
Opinion polls suggested Greeks favour Papandreou's model of a longer-serving unity government.
One survey commissioned by Proto Thema newspaper showed 52 percent of the public back the idea of a national unity government while 36 percent wanted snap elections. Another poll commissioned by Ethnos newspaper put support for the rival ideas at 45 percent and 41.7 percent respectively.
A government source said Papandreou's deputy, Finance Minister Venizelos, was already negotiating behind the scenes to win support from the smaller parties for a government that Venizelos himself wants to lead.
"Venizelos is having contacts with party leaders to secure their agreement," said a government official who requested anonymity.
In snubbing Papandreou, who survived a parliamentary confidence vote in the early hours of Saturday, Samaras acknowledged the leading role being played by Venizelos in the manoeuvring for power.
"Whenever we try to find a way out, the Papandreou-Venizelos government invents new obstacles to block it," he complained.
(Writing by David Stamp; Editing by Peter Graff)
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POPAYAN, Colombia (Reuters) - Colombians rejoiced at the killing of top FARC rebel leader Alfonso Cano and hoped the biggest blow yet against Latin America's longest insurgency could herald an end to nearly five decades of war.
In a triumph for President Juan Manuel Santos' hardline security policy, officials said forces bombed a FARC jungle hide-out in the mountainous southwestern Cauca region.
Troops then rappelled down from helicopters to search the area, killing the widely hated Marxist rebel boss, his girlfriend and several other rebels in a gun battle on Friday.
Pictures of his dead body showed him without his trademark beard, eyes open and his thick glasses dangling from his neck.
Nobody expected the death of Cano, 63, who had a $3.7 million bounty on his head, to spell a quick end to a war that has killed tens of thousands in the Andean nation.
Late on Saturday, the rebels vowed to fight on, saying in a statement on a website that often carries their messages that it was not the first time a top FARC leader had been killed.
But it will further damage the drug trade-funded rebels' ability to coordinate high-profile bombings, ambushes and kidnappings that have brought them worldwide notoriety.
"It is the most devastating blow this group has suffered in its history," Santos said, speaking at a military base in Popayan, a mountain town close to where Cano was killed.
"I want to send a message to each and every member of that organization: 'Demobilize' ... or otherwise you will end up in a prison or in a tomb. We will achieve peace."
DECADES OF DEATH
Some Colombians spilled into the street overnight, dancing and chanting with joy: "Cano is dead!" Local media splashed photos of Cano across their front pages.
While still supported in some hard left-wing circles due to the FARC's roots as a peasant insurgency, most Colombians saw Cano as a thug funded by the cocaine trade. As well as the deaths, high-profile kidnappings have traumatized the nation and tarnished its global reputation time and time again.
The former student activist took over leadership of the rebels after the founder of the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, died of a heart attack in 2008.
"This is brilliant news; it's just one more of those delinquents dead and a step closer to peace," said Horacio Londono, 53, buying cigarettes at a Bogota coffee stand.
Even prior to its decapitation, the FARC had been battered by a U.S.-backed military campaign that began in 2002. The waning insurgency has lost several other key commanders in the past few years.
Cano's death came after intelligence from a former rebel.
Six laptops were found along with 39 memory sticks, cell phones and cash in pesos, dollars and euros.
Cano's death was a major strategic victory for Santos, who came to office last year vowing to keep up a hard-line security stance.
It will ease the pressure on the president, who has been criticized over a recent upsurge in small-scale attacks, and it will reassure investors in the booming oil and mining sectors.
Foreign investment in Colombia has surged since the military crackdown began in 2002. But the FARC and other armed groups still pose a threat in rural areas where state presence is weak and cocaine trafficking finances their operations.
Many FARC fighters, demoralized by the military offensive that has cut them off from supplies of food, weapons and clothing, have begun to turn themselves in, inform on the leadership and question the basis of the struggle.
Bogota has hobbled the FARC's once-sophisticated communications, which until a few years ago were possible across vast swathes of jungle and mountains using radios.
Spy planes and listening technology have now left the FARC reliant on cellphone text messages and foot couriers.
It was not immediately clear who would take over from Cano, though analysts suggested FARC commanders Ivan Marquez or Timoleon Jimenez, known as Timochenko, could be candidates.
"There's no leader with the intensity that Cano has and it will be hard to get someone to replace him," said Alfredo Rangel, an independent security analyst. "In the short term there will be a lack of leadership. The end won't be automatic or immediate, but we are coming to the end of the FARC."
Cano went from being a middle-class communist youth activist in Bogota to become the top FARC leader after taking part in peace talks in Venezuela and Mexico during the 1990s.
The strike that killed him underscored how Colombia's military can now attack rebel leaders in the country's most remote regions. The FARC is at its weakest in decades.
Desertions and military operations have whittled down rebel ranks to about 7,000 fighters, but the FARC has survived for more than 40 years and still has a cadre of experienced mid-level commanders. Rebels are relying increasingly on hit-and-run tactics and ambushes in rural areas.
Though most Colombians profess hatred for the FARC, there is still some residual support, including universities where pro-rebel graffiti sometimes appears.
"The death of Alfonso Cano does not mean the end of the FARC," said Robert Munks of IHS Jane's think tank.
"President Santos will now be well-placed to promote a peace process involving a negotiated solution to the insurgency at the same time as maintaining military pressure."
(Additional reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta, Jack Kimball, Helen Murphy, Nelson Bocanegra and Julia Cobb; Writing by Daniel Wallis and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Jackie Frank and Eric Walsh)
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BOGOTA (Reuters) - A bloodied corpse displayed by victorious troops in Colombia's mountains may come to symbolize the beginning of the end of Latin America's oldest insurgency.
That is what most Colombians hope following the death of Alfonso Cano, head of the FARC guerrillas, in a bombing raid by President Juan Manuel Santos' forces on Friday.
But if others successfully take up the fight, the Marxist-inspired FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, could continue its drug-financed activities -- including killing and hostage-taking -- perhaps for years.
"The death of Alfonso Cano does not mean the end of the FARC, which is likely to move quickly to appoint a new commander," said IHS Jane's analyst Robert Munks.
"From a position of strength, President Santos will now be well-placed to promote a peace process involving a negotiated solution to the insurgency at the same time as maintaining military pressure."
Clean-shaven and without his trademark spectacles, the 63-year-old Cano was photographed after being killed along with his girlfriend and several other FARC fighters by special forces who rappelled down from helicopters.
His death leaves a power vacuum in the FARC that could push it down the road to peace, or deeper into bloodshed and disarray, as its political, military and drug-trafficking wings jockey for position.
"It requires a very special type of leader to promote peace talks. There is a danger it could become another narco crime gang," said local analyst Juan Carlos Palou, referring to Colombia's right-wing paramilitary groups.
Despite being granted amnesty in 2006, many heavily armed former paramilitaries continue to roam the country, killing and trafficking drugs.
Cano replaced FARC founder Manuel Marulanda, who died of a heart attack in 2008.
The FARC once had as many as 17,000 combatants who moved almost freely across great swathes of jungle and mountains. But it has been battered by more than a decade of U.S.-funded attacks that have depleted and demoralized its fighting force.
Funded mainly by the cocaine trade, the rebels are unlikely to give up their battle with the government easily.
While an immediate end to the war is doubtful, Cano's death may disorient the group as it seeks to replace him, stemming violence that has killed tens of thousands over the years.
Ivan Marquez is the most likely among the FARC's seven-member secretariat to take over from Cano, analysts say.
A negotiator who took part in talks with Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez to free hostages held by the rebels, Marquez is believed to be hiding in neighboring Venezuela.
Another possible successor is Timoleon Jimenez, also known as Timochenko, who is thought to have set up the FARC's cocaine production and distribution structures.
"There's no leader with the experience Cano had," independent security analyst Alfredo Rangel said.
"It will be hard to get someone to replace him. It will breed inertia in the ranks ... The best they can do is negotiate peace because time is running out for them."
SANTOS REJECTS COMPLACENCY
Cano's death provides a big boost to President Juan Manuel Santos, who has been criticized in recent months for a surge in small-scale rebel attacks across the nation.
Santos, who took office last year pledging to step up pressure on the group, cautioned Colombians on Saturday against becoming "triumphalist," warning that the fight would continue until Colombia was at peace.
While the FARC has expressed interest in talks, Santos has rejected any notion of discussions until the group stops killing and kidnapping.
"This is a big hit against the FARC and a triumph for Santos," said former High Commissioner for Peace Camilo Gomez.
"It shows that, contrary to what some say, Colombia's military is not demoralized. It is further evidence of the defeat the FARC is suffering."
As its support shrinks, the FARC has resorted to recruiting children to plant land mines to push back the military and boost its rank and file as adult fighters shy away from the harsh conditions within the group.
Discipline in the FARC is brutal. Insubordination is met with a bullet in the back of the head. While the FARC calls itself the people's army, fighting for the rights of the rural poor, former fighters say ideological discussion is scarce.
Demoralized by an offensive that has pushed it deeper into inhospitable jungle, where food, medicines and clothing take months to reach the mostly adolescent and peasant recruits, the FARC may be ready to consider a political way out of the war.
A demobilized rebel provided the intelligence that led to the successful raid on Cano's camp, Santos said, evidence that the group appeared to be slipping into crisis.
Helped by U.S. technical support, the government has hobbled the FARC's once-sophisticated communication system. Until a few years ago, rebel commanders could use radios to communicate from the north to the south of the country, meaning they could easily plan their attacks and procure weaponry.
That is now no longer the case because of measures taken by the authorities to block those signals.
Disease, desertion and casualties have cut the FARC's ranks by half from its peak in 2000 before former President Alvaro Uribe took office and launched fresh offensives.
Considered terrorists by Washington and the European Union, the FARC was founded in 1964 as a rural insurgency. Its founder Manuel Marulanda, known as Sureshot, initially received support from the Soviet Union, Cuba and Colombia's Communist Party.
"The death of a FARC leader is easy for them; they just replace him," said Carlos Lozano of the Communist newspaper Voz. "But that is what is prolonging this war indefinitely."
(Additional reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Andrew Cawthorne and Eric Walsh)
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