Thousands are returning to the streets of Colombia after a week of deadly protests against the government

Thousands of protesters poured into the streets of Colombia on Wednesday, the eighth consecutive day of protests, despite clashes that left at least 24 dead and hundreds injured.

Students, unions, indigenous peoples and other groups gathered in the capital Bogota and in the cities of Medellin in the northwest and Cali in the southwest.

Their frustration was initially caused by a proposed tax reform – has since been withdrawn. But the demonstrations are fraught with anger at the government’s health, education and inequality policies, as well as the violent repression by security forces.

At least 24 people were killed – 18 of whom were shot – with more than 800 others injured and 89 people reported missing during the week, according to official figures.

Others have higher tolls. The NGO Temblores reported 37 deaths.

Reporters Without Borders, meanwhile, said 76 journalists were attacked, 10 of whom were injured by security forces.

Protestors held protests at various points in Bogota on Wednesday, holding banners with slogans calling on President Ivan Duque to resign.

Presidential adviser Miguel Ceballos said the government will meet with representatives of the protesters “next week”, while high courts have requested that “all parties” of the “peaceful protests and social unrest” be involved in all talks.

Thousands, most with face masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19, gathered in the center of Plaza Bolivar near the presidential headquarters. Police prevented any group from entering Congress.

By mid-morning, another 8,000 people took to the streets of Medellin, Colombia’s second-largest city.

While the demonstrations were mostly peaceful, violence has escalated in some cities.

Despite recent calls for calm from the international community, new havoc was wreaked overnight in the capital.

“The police are attacking us … we are not vandals,” said a 36-year-old woman named Natalia who refused to give her last name. She found herself in a crowd of people dressed in mourning clothes.

Thirty civilians and 16 police officers were injured in attacks on police stations, the Bogota mayor’s office said.

The aftermath of the clashes was visible on Wednesday in the form of burning police stations, destroyed bus shelters and benches and smoldering tires.

“It hurts to see this, but what hurts even more is the negligence of a deaf government that prefers to send the security forces out,” Hector Cuinemi, a 19-year-old student in Bogota, told me. AFP.

Worldwide criticism of the use of force by security guards

On Tuesday, the United Nations, the European Union and the United States, as well as human rights organizations, criticized the use of force by Colombian security agents.

One of the worst incidents happened in Cali late Monday, when five people died and 30 were injured.

On Wednesday, there were still many roadblocks in Cali – Colombia’s third most populous city and one of the most violent in Latin America – with trucks carrying fuel and medical supplies needing military and police protection to get through while the country took a second. golf into battle. corona pandemic.

The government blames armed gangs for the violence, including dissidents from disbanded leftist FARC guerrillas, members of another leftist rebel group, the ELN and drug traffickers.

The president has previously promised to open “spaces for dialogue” with the various protesting sectors, although he has defended the security forces and said they are the main victims of the violence.

The social unrest comes just over a month before the start of the Copa America, which is jointly organized by Colombia and Argentina.

The CONMEBOL governing body of South American football has moved five continental club games to be played in Colombia this week to other countries.

But Duque vowed that the Copa America would continue to be organized jointly by Colombia.

“The Copa will take place… in the two countries. I think it will be an important message at this point,” he said.

The anti-government protests underscore the economic desperation many are facing in the wake of the global coronavirus crisis.

In its worst performance in half a century, Colombia’s GDP contracted 6.8 percent in 2020 and unemployment was 16.8 percent in March.

According to official figures, almost half of the population lives in poverty.

(AFP)

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