The Colombian government invites protest leaders to talks as the mass demonstrations continue

The Colombian government invited protest leaders to a dialogue on Thursday in an effort to ease tensions after more than a week of deadly demonstrations against President Ivan Duque.

At least 24 people have died in clashes between protesters and security forces, while hundreds more have been injured.

Thousands of Colombians, including indigenous peoples, trade unions and students, have taken to the streets to express their anger at the government’s policies on health, education and inequality.

They have also denounced what they see as a brutal and deadly response from security forces.

“We must listen to all sectors of the country, but the country must also listen to the government,” presidential adviser Miguel Ceballos told Blu Radio. “That includes those who are marching, but also those who are not marching.”

Ceballos said the government would meet with protest leaders on Monday, including the National Strike Committee.

“The government wanted to first invite those organizing the National Strike Committee, although it realized that the mobilizations are not exclusive to this group,” said Ceballos.

The National Strike Committee represents a variety of groups, including indigenous peoples, trade unions, environmentalists and students.

Ceballos later wrote on Twitter that Duque and Vice President Lucia Ramirez would be attending the meeting.

Protest leaders have said they would be willing to speak to Duque directly, but not to middlemen.

“The dialogue must be the one on the street, and they are young people,” said Bogota Mayor Claudia Lopez, one of the main targets of the protesters.

Duque has occasionally seen massive protests against his rule since 2019, and the latest social movement kicked off on April 28, initially against a tax reform that has since been withdrawn.

While the demonstrations have been largely peaceful, there have been violent skirmishes across the country.

The government blames armed groups for the violence, including left-wing rebels and drug traffickers.

The United Nations, the European Union, the United States and NGOs have accused the security forces of using excessive force.

Home Secretary Daniel Palacios spoke to journalists in Washington on Thursday and said several government agencies were working together to determine who was responsible for the violence and “whether excessive force was used to hold them accountable.”

(AFP)

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