Colombia deploys military to Cali as protester death toll mounts

Colombian President Ivan Duque has deployed military troops to the western province of Valle del Cauca and its capital, Cali, after four people died in protests that marked a month of anti-government demonstrations.

The four died in and around Cali on Friday as tens of thousands marched across the country in the latest of demonstrations that started on April 28 to oppose a tax reform but have since expanded to include wide-ranging demands.

Clara Luz Roldan, governor of Valle del Cauca, earlier declared a curfew would start in the province from 7:00 pm (00:00 GMT).

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

The agent, who was not on duty at the time, was also then killed.

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

‘Insane situation of death and pain’

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

Calling for dialogue between those “calling for strikes, the national government, and the whole of society”, Ospina added: “We cannot allow these circumstances to keep happening 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 a tax reform that critics said would disproportionately harm the working and middle classes, already hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The demonstrations pressured the government and legislators into shelving the tax plan and also prompted the resignation of former finance minister Alberto Carrasquilla. Protester demands now include a basic income, opportunities for young people and an end to police violence.

Although demonstrations outside Valle del Cauca on Friday were mostly peaceful, clashes between police and protesters were reported in some areas, such as the municipality of Madrid, near Bogota, as were incidents of violence in the city of Popayan.

Amid singing and music in the capital Bogota, protesters said they would keep marching.

“Until the government listens to us, we have to stay in the streets,” Alejandro Franco, 23, told the Reuters news agency. Close to graduating, he said he was marching for better education and health, among other reasons.

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

Some said the long-running protests are putting them under financial pressure.

“I have to close my shop every time there are protests,” Laudice Ramirez, 62, said in the south of the city. “I’m going bankrupt, but the youth don’t have any other options for opportunities.”

 

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