By Oliver Griffin
BOGOTA (Reuters) – The United Nations and European Union on Tuesday called for calm and warned of the use of excessive force at protests against the administration of Colombian President Ivan Duque, as protester deaths mounted and demonstrations continued overnight.
The protests – originally called in opposition to a now-canceled tax reform – have become a broad cry for action against poverty and what demonstrators and some advocacy groups say is police use of excessive force.
The national police has said it will investigate more than two dozen allegations of brutality, while the defense minister has alleged illegal armed groups are infiltrating the protests to cause violence.
The western city of Cali has become the protests’ epicenter and is the site of 11 of 19 deaths confirmed by the Andean country’s human rights ombudsman.
“No more blood in Cali,” the city’s mayor Jorge Ivan Ospina said in a Twitter post early on Tuesday, adding efforts are being made to prevent more loss of life.
The tax reform opposed by protesters – which would have expanded sales and income tax – has been withdrawn by the government and Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla resigned.
Duque has said his government will draw up another reform proposal – the result of consultations with lawmakers, civil society and businesses – and used his nightly television show to call for unity.
“What we most require today is that everyone, absolutely everyone, be united in some basic purposes,” Duque said on Monday.
Duque previously offered military assistance to protect infrastructure and guarantee access to essential services, though mayors of cities including Bogota and Medellin said it was unnecessary.
The United Nation’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights urged calm ahead of further planned protests and warned of police shootings.
“We are deeply alarmed at developments in the city of Cali in Colombia overnight, where police opened fire on demonstrators protesting against tax reforms,” spokesperson Marta Hurtado said in a Tuesday statement.
The European Union also called for security forces to avoid a heavy-handed response, urged calm and condemned violence.
Last year, 13 people were killed during protests sparked by the death of a man in police custody.
(Reporting by Oliver Griffin; Additional reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Editing by Julia Symmes Cobb and Alistair Bell)