Colombian protesters to march on capitals to demand economic aid, social change


BOGOTA (Reuters) – Unions and student groups are set to march on the capital cities of Colombia’s 32 provinces on Wednesday to demand government concessions on economic support for the poor and other issues, following almost a month of widespread protests.

Demonstrations which began last month have pressured the government and lawmakers into shelving tax and health reforms and prompted the resignation of the former finance minister.

Their demands have expanded to include a basic income, opportunities for young people and an end to police violence, including calls to scrap the riot police squad ESMAD.

Wednesday’s protests will demand progress on what the national strike committee – made up of unions, student groups and others – refers to as emergency petitions.

The wide-ranging petitions include strengthening women’s rights, a moratorium on mortgage and utilities payments for four months, and repealing emergency measures protest leaders say have worsened working conditions during the pandemic.

Violence has marked demonstrations over the last four weeks. The government says just 17 civilian deaths are directly connected with marches, while human rights groups claim dozens more.

Two police officers have also died in connection with protests, the government says.

As well as the deaths, the attorney general’s office said 129 people reported missing were still being sought and 290 others have been found. Rights groups say the number of missing is much higher.

In the face of international condemnation over the alleged use of excessive force by security forces, the government of President Ivan Duque has stressed its respect for peaceful protest, while also insisting that road blocks, which have caused shortages around the country, be lifted.

There are 73 active road blocks, according to the defense ministry.

Majority state-owned Ecopetrol said on Tuesday it did not expect blockades to affect its investment plan for the year, but could not predict how long protests will go on.

(Reporting by Oliver Griffin, additional reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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