Colombia deploys military to Cali as death toll among protesters rises

Colombia deploys military to Cali as death toll among protesters rises

Colombian President Ivan Duque has deployed military troops to the western province of Valle del Cauca and its capital, Cali, after four people were killed in protests that marked a month of anti-government protests.
The four died in and around Cali on Friday as tens of thousands marched across the country in the latest of the protests that began on April 28 to oppose tax reform, but have ended. since extended to include far-reaching claims.

Talks between the government and protest leaders, including union leaders who have formed a national strike committee, have stalled.

The new death toll brings the officially reported deaths to 49 to 49, but Human Rights Watch estimates the tally at 63.

Amid the unrest, Duque chaired a security meeting in the city of Cali and addressed the public in a televised message.

“From this evening begins the maximum deployment of military assistance to the national police in Cali and in the province of Valle,” he said, describing the decision as the one taken to stop “the vandalism , unrest ”and to protect“ people’s peace ”, as well as to protect“ strategic assets ”in Colombia.

He added that more than 7,000 people will be sent to remove roadblocks, including members of the navy, but did not give further details.

Clara Luz Roldan, governor of Valle del Cauca, previously said a curfew would begin in the province from 7:00 p.m. (00:00 GMT).

In Cali, which has become the epicenter of nationwide protests, Attorney General Francisco Barbosa said two of Friday’s deaths occurred when an agent from the Attorney General’s investigative unit opened fire on civilians.

The officer, who was off duty at the time, was also killed.

Video footage showed a man lying in a pool of blood and another nearby wielding a gun, who was later attacked by a group of people.

Local media said the fourth fatality occurred on the road between Cali and the town of Candelaria.

“Insane situation of death and pain”

Cali Mayor Jorge Ospina said he regretted what he described as a “senseless situation of death and pain”.

Calling for dialogue between those “who call a strike, the national government and the whole of society,” Ospina added: “We cannot allow these circumstances to continue to occur in Cali. We must not fall into the temptation of violence and death.

The protests began last month after Duque’s right-wing government introduced tax reform that critics say would disproportionately harm the working and middle classes, already hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The protests pushed the government and lawmakers to suspend the tax plan and also prompted the resignation of former finance minister Alberto Carrasquilla. Demonstrators’ demands now include a basic income, opportunities for young people and an end to police violence.

Although Friday’s protests outside Valle del Cauca were mostly peaceful, clashes between police and protesters were reported in some areas, such as the Municipality of Madrid, near Bogota, as well as incidents of violence in the town of Popayan.

Amid chants and music in the capital Bogota, protesters said they would continue to march.

“As long as the government does not listen to us, we must stay on the streets,” Alejandro Franco, 23, told Reuters news agency. Near graduation, he said he was walking for better education and better health, among other reasons.

“If the people don’t have peace, neither does the government,” he added.

Some said the longstanding protests put them under financial pressure.

“I have to close my shop every time there are protests,” said Laudice Ramirez, 62, in the south of the city. “I’m going to go bankrupt, but young people have no other options for opportunities. “

The Colombian police crackdown on demonstrators drew international condemnation.

In a meeting with Colombian Vice President Marta Lucia Ramirez in Washington on Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken “expressed concern and condolences for the loss of life in recent protests in Colombia and reiterated the indisputable right of citizens to demonstrate peacefully, ”according to a spokesperson.

Blinken also hailed the national dialogue convened by Duque “as an opportunity for the Colombian people to work together to build a peaceful and prosperous future,” the spokesperson added.

However, two weeks of negotiations to end the unrest have yet to bear fruit.

The government and protest leaders reached a “prior agreement” to end the protests earlier this week, but strike organizers said on Thursday that the government had not signed the agreement and had it. accused of stagnating.

“We have already reached the agreement, the only thing missing is the president’s signature to start negotiations,” Francisco Maltes, president of the Central Workers’ Union (CUT), said on Friday, accusing the government of delaying the talks.

The government said it did not sign the deal because some protest leaders would not condemn the roadblocks, calling the issue non-negotiable and adding that talks would resume on Sunday.

Colombia’s finance ministry estimated protests and roadblocks cost the country $ 2.68 billion, with roadblocks leading to shortages of food and other supplies, pushing up prices and disrupting operations in the mainland. the country’s seaport, as well as for hundreds of companies.


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