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BOGOTA: On Wednesday (June 9), thousands of people took to the streets of several cities in Colombia to protest against President Ivan Duque.
Dozens of people were killed in protests that erupted across the country on April 28, initially against a tax hike that would have affected mainly the middle class, but which turned into a major anti-government movement.
The protests on Wednesday were peaceful and colorful throughout the day, but as darkness fell, they escalated into clashes with police in the country’s capital Bogota, Medellin in the northwest and other cities in the country.
Demonstrators have demanded an end to police repression and more favorable government policies to mitigate the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has left more than 40 percent of the country’s 50 million inhabitants in poverty.
“We need opportunities, and education and health are a right, not a privilege,” said 15-year-old high school student Sofia Perico, who came to protest with her family in front of a hotel in central Bogotá where the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) Delegation was located ) held meetings to assess social upheaval.
“We want changes in social policy, in economic policy (…) people just can’t take it anymore,” said teacher Dernir Galvis, another protester.
Over the past six weeks, the crisis has been accompanied by almost daily demonstrations and road blockages, especially in the southwest of the country, and violent clashes with police.
The IACHR visit from 6 to 10 June followed international criticism of the police’s brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.
In Bogotá, a group of indigenous people tried to topple statues of Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella on the avenue leading to El Dorado International Airport.
“We are gathered here today to condemn these crimes against humanity, which were committed over 500 years ago and which continue to be committed today. The methods of controlling and suppressing people remain the same, ”36-year-old Edgar Velasco told AFP.
At least 61 people, including two police officers, have died since the protests began, according to authorities.
According to the Ministry of Defense, about 2,400 civilians and police officers were injured during the demonstrations.
Human Rights Watch said Wednesday that national police officers “committed flagrant abuses against mostly peaceful demonstrators during the protests that began in April 2021.”
In submitting a report on the protests, the human rights group reported that it “documented numerous killings by the police, as well as beatings, sexual assault and arbitrary detention of protesters and passers-by”.
“These brutal abuses are not isolated incidents by rogue police officers, but are the result of systematic flaws in the Colombian police,” said José Miguel Vivanco, America’s director of Human Rights Watch.
“To ensure that these violations do not happen again, a comprehensive reform is needed that clearly separates the police from the military and provides adequate oversight and accountability.”
HRW said it received credible reports of 68 deaths during the protests and confirmed 34 cases.
These included two police officers, one criminal investigator and 31 demonstrators or passers-by. At least 20 of them were killed by the police, with 16 of them killed by firearms.
Conservative President Duque on Sunday announced attempts to “modernize” the police, but criticized the limited scope of promised reforms.
Government delegates and protest leaders have so far been fruitlessly negotiating to defuse the crisis.
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