(Update 2: Adds details, rewrite 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, which began dialog with various political, economic and social sectors, but not the leaders of the protests, nor the opposition.
The strike on the eighth consecutive day of protests was carried out mostly in peace, although there were riots in Bogotá, where a group clashed with police in the Plaza de Bolívar.
The violent anti-government demonstrations 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 that according to the NGO Temblores has claimed the lives of 37 people in the last eight days.
However, the Ombudsman’s Office said that the protests have left 24 dead and that the police are allegedly responsible for 11 of the cases.
On the eve of the national strike, at least 72 civilians and 19 policemen were injured in a riot in Bogotá in which vandals attacked 23 police stations, one of which was set on fire with 10 officers inside who managed to get to safety.
However, in the capital, most of the demonstrations passed quietly with batucadas, dances and a cry for justice for the alleged abuses of the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (Esmad) of the police.
A group of people knocked down the fences that separate the Plaza de Bolívar from the Capitol and then attacked the building with stones and other objects, and tried to enter while Congress was in session. They were prevented by Esmad, which dispersed the attack with tear gas.
“The young people in the plaza tear down the fences of Congress, and Esmad intervenes. We have to stop this vicious circle. I invite the congressmen who are there and have called for the strike to go out to dialog with the young people to specify the path of mediation and end the confrontation,” said Bogotá mayor Claudia López.
In other cities such as Medellín, thousands of people demonstrated in peace, while in Cali, the main focus of the protest violence, a march was led by dozens of indigenous people who arrived from the neighboring department of Cauca, where the armed conflict has worsened in the last months.
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, or the 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 Mayor 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.”
Meanwhile, 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 these talks, the leaders of the National Unemployment Committee will participate on May 10, 13 days since the start of the demonstrations. EFE