Protesters tear-gassed in Bogota as Colombians continue protest - GulfToday

Protesters tear-gassed in Bogota as Colombians continue protest


Demonstrators react as police fires tear gas during a protest at Bolivar Square in Bogota. Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters

Security forces tear-gassed protesters who filled the streets of Bogota on Saturday for a third straight day, as President Ivan Duque announced the start of a "national conversation" to assuage popular anger.

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Duque, a conservative who is deeply unpopular 18 months after his election, had proposed the talks on Friday in response to nationwide protests a day earlier that descended into violence, leaving three dead.

"Tomorrow, with Mayors and Governors elected from all over the country we will start the National Conversation," he wrote on Twitter on Saturday evening, referring to officials who won October polls.

Demonstrators confront riot police during a protest against government in Bogota. Juan Barreto/AFP

Duque said he would meet Monday with the ministers of finance, labor and trade, along with representatives of business owners and workers, while dialogue with "different social sectors" would take place next week.

Following an overnight curfew in Bogota, demonstrators returned to the streets on Saturday as crews cleared debris from earlier clashes and looting.

"We woke up. Change is underway and it won't stop," protester Juan Sebastian Patino, 32, told AFP.

Protesters are demanding, among other things, a crackdown on drug trafficking and violence, more flexible labor market conditions and improved retirement benefits.

Tear gas, rubber bullets

Duque, 43, has been criticized for his economic, social and security policies, as his administration deals with hosting 1.4 million refugees from neighboring Venezuela's economic meltdown as well as the complex fallout of a 2016 peace deal with FARC rebels.

Demonstrators raise their hands during a protest as national strike continues in Bogota, Colombia. Reuters

Hundreds of thousands took to the streets in Bogota and other cities on Thursday as part of a nationwide general strike.

There were arrests and clashes as trade unions, students, opposition parties and the South American country's indigenous organizations vented their anger.

Three people have died and nearly 300 were wounded in the unrest.

Demonstrations on Friday were marked by people banging pots and pans in a clamorous protest known as a "cacerolazo," common in parts of Latin America but only a recent phenomenon in Colombia.

Protests grew Saturday in Bogota, as well as Cali and Medellin, as indignation spread over reports of security forces dispersing peaceful crowds with tear gas and rubber bullets.

In Bogota, some 13,000 soldiers and riot police kept watch over sensitive neighborhoods in the city of seven million.

"These patrols are necessary and ensure tranquility," said Duque, who did not indicate how long the armed patrols would continue.

Demonstrators attend a protest at Bolivar Square as national strike continues in Bogota, Colombia. Reuters

Bogota, known for its mammoth traffic jams, had taken on the feel of a ghost town overnight as it came under a curfew, the first in the city since 1977.

More than 330 arrests were reported, mainly for violating the curfew, which was also enforced in Cali, the country's third-largest city.

In the capital, hundreds of people defied the curfew to converge in front of Duque's home, singing the national anthem and banging pots and pans for an hour.

Agence France-Presse

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