Colombia protesters demand ‘no more violence’
(Update 3: Adds details, updates figures, rewrites throughout)
Bogotá, May 5 (EFE).- Thousands of people returned to the streets of Colombia Wednesday to participate in the second “national strike” against the government.
Protesters shouted “no more violence,” as eight days of demonstrations have left at least 11 confirmed deaths, according to the Prosecutor’s Office, although social organizations raise that number to 31.
The Ombudsman’s Office on Wednesday reported at least 24 fatalities during the protests, but the Prosecutor’s Office later indicated that after using “all judicial clarification mechanisms,” it determined that “11 violent deaths occurred on the occasion of these demonstrations, seven are under verification” and six have no link.
The anti-government protests began on Apr. 28 against President Ivan Duque’s plans to introduce a tax overhaul bill to Congress, and continue among other things in rejection of the police brutality.
The second day of the strike passed quietly with batucadas, dances and a cry for justice for the alleged abuses of the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (Esmad) of the police.
However, there were also riots in cities such as Bogotá, where demonstrators knocked down the capitol fences and threw stones at the police who dispersed them with tear gas; in the Caribbean town of Santa Marta, where there was looting, and in Medellín, where there were clashes and a Metroplús bus station system was set on fire.
The most tense situation occurred in Pereira, capital of Risaralda department, where three young people were seriously injured by shots from unknown persons on the César Gaviria Viaduct.
Musicians, actors and acrobats showed a friendly face of the protests with various artistic and cultural expressions to call for dialog and ask for changes in the economic and social policy of the government.
The focus of these colorful demonstrations was in Medellín where demonstrations opened with a concert in the Parque de los Deseos, which was spontaneously joined by local artists, who played melodies in support of the national strike.
Meanwhile, the “Meeting to advance an agenda on the fundamentals,” the call for dialog made by Duque and in which representatives of universities, student organizations, community leaders, governors and mayors participated, also began on Wednesday.
Various sectors criticized that the president did not take into account the leaders of the National Unemployment Committee, organizers of the protests, nor opponents who have promoted the demonstrations.
“I appreciate the call for dialog but I would like to call for good sense: with whom we must talk are those on the street,” said Bogotá mayor Claudia López. “It is to these young people that the national government must offer a ceasefire (…) It must be recognized that there have been abuses on both sides.”
Talks will continue on Thursday with the participation of the presidents of the high courts, who asked that “these spaces include all the actors involved in peaceful protest and social unrest.”
Together with the High Commissioner for Peace, Miguel Ceballos, who coordinates the talks, the leaders of the National Unemployment Committee will participate on May 10, 13 days since the start of the demonstrations.
On the other hand, the Colombian Prosecutor’s Office will charge policemen for the killings of three civilians, said Attorney General Francisco Barbosa in a joint statement with ombudsman Carlos Camargo.
The Ombudsman’s Office said 89 people have been reported missing since the demonstrations began, but Barbosa assured that 38 “have already been located.”
“We have 51 people pending to locate in the next few days,” said the official. EFE