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Colombian unions, student groups to hold third national strike

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By Reuters
Colombian unions, student groups to hold third national strike
A demonstrator shout slogans as she joins a call for what they say is a simultaneous cacerolazos (pot-banging protests) throughout Latin America in support of protests, in Bogota, Colombia December 1, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso   -   Copyright  CARLOS JASSO(Reuters)
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By Oliver Griffin

BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombian unions and student groups plan a third national strike on Wednesday amid fraught talks between protest leaders and the government over President Ivan Duque’s social and economic policies.

The strike would be the latest demonstration in two weeks of protests, which have drawn hundreds of thousands of marchers and imperilled Duque’s proposed tax reform, which lowers duties on businesses.

The protests prompted him to announce a “great national dialogue” on social issues, but government efforts to stop new demonstrations have not met with success as the union-led National Strike Committee has stuck firmly to demands for one-on-one talks and refused to call off the protests.

The demonstrations, while largely peaceful, resulted in damage to dozens of public transport stations and curfews in the cities of Cali and Bogota.

Protesters have wide-ranging demands – that the government to do more to stop the murder of human rights activists, more support for former leftist rebels who demobilized under a peace deal and the dissolution of the ESMAD riot police, whom marchers have accused of excessive force.

Five people have died in connection with the demonstrations, which started on Nov. 21 and have occurred in tandem with protests in other Latin American countries.

The Central Union of Workers, the country’s largest union, said it would negotiation this week with the government even as protests continue.

Protesters in Bogota, the capital, are to march from seven locations across the city on Wednesday before converging on the central Bolivar Plaza, in front of congress and a block from the presidential palace.

The city’s mayor has closed the plaza, long a popular protest site, to put up annual Christmas decorations and has asked protesters not to gather there.

The strike committee has made 13 demands of the government, including that it reject a rise in the pension age and a cut in the minimum wage for young people, both policies Duque denies supporting.

The government has repeatedly said the committee’s demands for dialogue exclude other sectors and that it cannot meet certain demands, including that it refrain from deploying the ESMAD.

The government and the committee are expected to meet again on Thursday.

(Reporting by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Julia Symmes Cobb and Dan Grebler)