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Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez dined with journalist friends during the 63rd Inter American Press Association meeting in Cartagena, Colombia, Monday. ((William Fernando Martinez/ Associated Press))

Gabriel Garcia Marquez was mobbed Monday when he appeared at a luncheon in Cartagena, Colombia, during a meeting of the Inter American Press Association.

The publicity-shy Nobel literature laureate arrived just as the richest man in the world, Bill Gates, was leaving the meeting. But the author clearly wished he had the security detail afforded the Microsoft chairman to fend off overzealous admirers.

Garcia Marquez, whose Hundred Years of Solitude is considered by many as a Spanish-language classic, is a national icon in his native Colombia. People treated him like a museum piece as he dined with journalist friends in a big tent at the event. Dozens jostled with police officers standing guard to have their pictures taken with him and to have books autographed.

Garcia Marquez, known endearingly as "Gabo," has in recent years shunned interviews assiduously — even with journalists he knows well.

One young radio reporter tried anyway Monday. "How about a few words for Cararcol radio," he said, thrusting a microphone in front of the 80-year-old writer.

"If I give an interview to you I have to give an interview to everyone," the writer responded.

Noting the reporter's crushed expression, Garcia Marquez then softened: "I love you, young man," he said.

After lunch, the mustachioed writer shuffled slowly to a friend's waiting sport utility vehicle, looking exhausted. He threw up his hands before getting into the vehicle.

"I can't take any more of this. I'm going to Mexico. I'm going to Mexico," he said. He has lived in Mexico City for decades.

Garcia Marquez was feted across Latin America earlier this month when he turned 80. The Colombian government vowed to rebuild the author's childhood home in the banana-producing town of Aracataca and convert it into a museum.

The Miami-based Inter American Press Association, which represents more than 1,300 newspapers in the region, is holding a four-day meeting in Cartagena. Gates addressed the gathering earlier Monday, speakingabout his efforts to set up computer learning centres in areas of Colombia where demobilized paramilitary fighters are in dire need of job training.