By Carlos Vargas and Julia Symmes Cobb
BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombian unions, student groups and other protesters marched on Thursday against rumoured economic reform plans and amid rising discontent with the government of President Ivan Duque, while the city of Cali imposed a curfew from 7 p.m.
Hundreds of thousands took to the streets to demand the government maintain the minimum wage for young people and the universal right to a pension, even though Duque has repeatedly denied considering those changes.
Other groups of marchers protested what they say is a lack of government action to prevent the murder of hundreds of human rights activists, corruption at universities and other issues.
Duque has repeatedly said his government would not tolerate violence and police fired tear gas in several cities, including in Bogota’s storied Bolivar Plaza.
As of 7 p.m. (2400 GMT), 42 civilians and 37 police officers had been injured, the police and interior ministry said, while 36 people had been arrested. Some 207,000 people marched, they said, most heading home peacefully in the late afternoon.
“There has been a very positive citizen participation in practically the whole country,” Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutierrez told journalists. “There have been a series of isolated incidents that have been controlled appropriately and adequately by the national police.”
The Colombian protests coincide with demonstrations in other Latin American countries.
Chile’s conservative government is grappling with anti-austerity marches in the biggest crisis to hit that country since its return to democracy in 1990. In Bolivia, protests over vote tampering allegations led long-time leftist President Evo Morales to resign. His ouster has inflamed tensions in crisis-hit Nicaragua.
In Cali, where protesters blocked roads and vandalised mass transit buses, the mayor called a curfew from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m. (1100 GMT) Friday.
In Bogota, protesters also blocked roads and damaged 64 mass transit stations, authorities said. Police used tear gas in the northwestern neighbourhood of Suba in an effort to break a blockade that closed a station early on Thursday morning.
In the evening, masked protesters burned several dumpsters and refused to allow a fire engine access to the blaze.
People across the city banged pots and pans in a sign of support for the protests.
“People from across the spectrum marched and I hope our president understands he has to grab the reins of the country and give us an assured path and hope for the young,” said 65-year-old pensioner and Duque voter Pablo Merchan. “He’s been in office for more than a year and hasn’t done anything.”
Police raids this week on activists and a culture magazine were widely criticized on social media. Cartel Urbano magazine staff posted videos showing police searching their offices.
(Reporting by Carlos Vargas and Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota, additional reporting by Andres Rojas and Daniel Munoz, Editing by Bill Berkrot and Grant McCool)