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Leftist rebels intent on torpedoing nationwide municipal elections intensified their intimidation campaign Friday, setting off bombs, paralyzing transport and forcing many businesses and schools to close.

More than 2,000 candidates have withdrawn from Sunday's vote for Colombia's governors, mayors and other state and local offices after receiving death threats in recent months. The threats have mostly been from guerrillas but also from right-wing paramilitary groups. At least 28 candidates have been killed.

The effort to ruin the balloting has been the guerrillas' most effective and serious challenge to the democratic process in their 30-year insurgency.

President Ernesto Samper told Colombians in a radio interview Friday that they must answer guerrilla violence "by voting for peace and voting for democracy."

Critics say some of the responsibility for Colombia's increased rebel activity lies with Samper, whose ability to govern has been sharply curtailed by a scandal involving allegations he accepted millions of dollars in campaign funds from the Cali drug cartel.

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