By Luis Jaime Acosta
BOGOTA (Reuters) – Union leaders and Colombian government representatives met on Thursday for the second time this week but failed to reach an agreement to end protests against President Ivan Duque’s economic and social policies.
The meeting took place just one day after a national strike organised by unions, students and advocacy groups drew thousands of protesters.
“We remain deeply at odds with the government over the make up of the discussions,” Diogenes Orjuela, the head of the Central Union of Workers (CUT), told journalists after the meeting.
“Furthermore, the government has taken a step back by labelling the discussions as exploratory. We continue to hold that this is a table for negotiations between the government and the national strike committee, to discuss the 13 demands that have been raised,” he said.
Protest leaders’ demands include that the government take more action to halt the killings of human rights activists, better implement a peace deal with leftist rebels and dissolve the ESMAD riot police, whom they accuse of excessive force during the protests.
Protesters also oppose a Duque tax reform which would cut duties on businesses, and reject other proposals Duque denies supporting, like alleged efforts to raise the pension age and cut the minimum wage for young people.
The government on Thursday asked protest leaders to make their demands more specific.
“The government needs to know the full depth of these demands so that it can discuss what agreements can and cannot be achieved,” said presidency official Diego Molano. “What we cannot do is build a negotiation based on 13 different topics without clearly knowing each demand.”
The protests, which have been largely peaceful, saw looting and attacks against transport systems in the first few days, leading the mayors of Cali and Bogotá to institute curfews.
Five people have died in connection with the protests, which followed upheaval in other Latin American countries such as Ecuador, Chile and Bolivia.
The government and protest leaders have agreed to a further meeting next week.
(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta and Javier Andres Rojas; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Michael Perry)