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Colombian unions, students set more protests in honour of dead teenager

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By Reuters
Colombian unions, students set more protests in honour of dead teenager
People gather around placards, candles and flowers to honour Dilan Cruz, a teenage demonstrator who died after being injured by a tear gas canister during an initial strike last week, in Bogota, Colombia November 26, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso   -   Copyright  CARLOS JASSO(Reuters)

BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombian unions and student groups will hold another protest on Wednesday in honour of a teenage demonstrator who died after being injured by a tear gas canister, after an initial strike last week sparked days of marches.

Other demonstrations are expected to continue on Tuesday, the sixth straight day of protests following a 250,000-person march last week organised by the National Strike Committee.

The committee said in a statement early on Tuesday it would demand “a permanent negotiation until the agenda for which the Nov. 21 strike was called is resolved” in a meeting with President Ivan Duque.

The meeting lasted about two hours, with committee leaders demanding Duque meet with them without including business leaders or other sectors.

Thousands of peaceful protesters have taken to the streets over issues including economic reforms, police violence and corruption.

Duque denies supporting rumoured economic plans that have galvanized many protesters – including a cut to the minimum wage for young people. Demonstrators have also highlighted what they say is a lack of government action to stop the murder of hundreds of human rights activists and asked Duque to fully implement a 2016 peace deal with leftist rebels.

Asked as he left the meeting what the government could do to end protests, Confederation of Colombian Workers president Luis Miguel Morantes told Reuters “it is a negotiation, there will be things that go to a certain point, there will be a fair balance, there will be other things we have to wait for, like changes in laws, it’s very relative.”

The committee wanted an “exclusive” dialogue, but the government would like them to form part of national discussions, said official Diego Molano.

“They must understand that there are other sectors which also want to debate the issues of employment, who have proposals for young people,” Molano told journalists.

The death on Monday of Dilan Cruz, 18, is likely to fuel further criticism of the crowd dispersion tactics of the ESMAD riot police, which include tear gas and stun grenades.

Cruz, who was injured on Saturday, has become a symbol for many young protesters. On Tuesday mourners were gathering at makeshift shrines outside the hospital where he was treated and the place where he was hit.

The strike committee said it would ask Duque to shut down the ESMAD and “purify” the police.

The committee will increase the intensity of the strike on Wednesday “in homage to the symbol of the national strike Dylan Cruz,” the statement said, using a different spelling of Cruz’s first name than that used by his sister and the government.

It will also demand that the government’s tax reform proposal, which includes a cut in duties on businesses, be rejected.

(Reporting by Carlos Vargas, Julia Symmes Cobb and Luis Jaime Acosta, additional reporting by Luisa Gonzalez; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Jonathan Oatis)