BOGOTA, Colombia – Colombia's inspector-general ordered Bogota's left-leaning mayor removed from office Monday for alleged unconstitutional behavior in a showdown last year with private garbage collectors.
Mayor Gustavo Petro was disqualified from public office for 15 years by the inspector-general, Alejandro Ordonez.
Ordonez is a conservative political ally of former President Alvaro Uribe. In 2010, he removed prominent leftist politician Piedad Cordoba from the Senate and barred her from holding office for 18 years after ruling she had promoted leftist rebels.
Petro, a former M-19 rebel and anti-corruption crusader, called his ouster as mayor "a coup d'etat" on his Twitter account.
He said he would appeal, but the inspector-general is the last resort under Colombia's constitution. The office is empowered to investigate and fire public officials, and legal experts said that unless Ordonez changes his mind, Petro must go.
Petro's supporters called the move politically motivated. Ordonez has been a firm opponent of same-sex marriage and abortion while Petro is a social and economic liberal.
Ordonez said he ordered Petro fired for "violating constitutional principles of commercial competition and freedom" by firing garbage collection contractors in December 2012 and replacing them with a city-run service.
Petro's gambit failed, however, and the contractors returned to work three days later after thousands of tons of garbage accumulated.
As a senator, Petro's investigations of the influence of far-right militias in Colombian politics uncovered a scandal in 2006 that has led to criminal conspiracy convictions of dozens of politicians.
The probe made him a national figure, and he finished third in the 2010 presidential election. But his popularity plummeted not long after he took office in 2012 as mayor of the capital, the country's second most important elected office.
Longtime allies abandoned him, quitting his administration and calling him stubbornly autocratic and unreceptive to criticism as he has sought to place under municipal control services that had previously been privatized.
Petro backed Ordonez's inspector-general candidacy while in the Senate, leading in part to his split with the country's main leftist part, the Polo Democratico.
In 2011, another leftist Bogota mayor was dismissed by Ordonez while under investigation for corruption related to alleged construction contract kickbacks. He was imprisoned later that year and is currently on trial.
Associated Press writer Frank Bajak in Lima, Peru, contributed to this report.