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In Colombia, protesters march on as talks stall and blockades remain

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By Reuters
In Colombia, protesters march on as talks stall and blockades remain
In Colombia, protesters march on as talks stall and blockades remain   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2021

By Luis Jaime Acosta and Oliver Griffin

BOGOTA -Thousands of Colombians took to the streets again on Wednesday amid a stalemate in talks between the government and leaders of anti-government protests which are stretching into their second month.

Demonstrations against the social and economic policies of President Ivan Duque began on April 28, with marchers demanding a basic income, opportunities for young people, and an end to police violence.

An umbrella national strike committee made up of unions, student groups and other civil society organizations is representing marchers in discussions with the government.

Last week the two sides reached a so-called pre-agreement, the details of which have not yet been released. But the committee later accused the government of backtracking and talks on Tuesday ended without further advances.

The government said protest leaders need to condemn road blocks which have caused shortages around the country and hit exports of coffee, coal and other products, adding the point was non-negotiable. The committee has said it does not have sway over all protesters.

Francisco Maltes, president of the Central Union of Workers (CUT), who sits on the committee, accused the government of delaying the signing of the pre-agreement that includes guarantees the committee says are needed to protect protesters’ rights.

“All these actions are to pressure the government into starting negotiations,” Maltes told Reuters. “The government lacks the political will to seek an agreement. We are waiting for the government to sign the pre-agreement for guarantees.”

While protesters count the withdrawal of tax and health reforms and the resignation of the former finance minister among their victories, they plan to keep marching to force more concessions from the government.

“We’ll keep fighting until the government is conscious of the poverty, inequality, and injustice, and of the groups calling for change,” teacher Andrea Sandino, 40, told Reuters.

Security forces have gradually lifted some blockades, but 38 remain, according to the defense minister.

The attorney general’s office says 20 deaths are linked directly to demonstrations, while rights groups report dozens killed by security forces.

The national police has said it will investigate police who stood by as people in civilian clothes fired on protesters in the city of Cali late last week.