Colombia’s Duque acknowledges protesters’ considerations after Cali violence

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Colombia’s President Ivan Duque speaks during an interview with Reuters in Bogota, Colombia, March 12, 2021. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombia’s President Ivan Duque said issues raised by young demonstrators would be included in national discussions meant to curb nearly two weeks of anti-government protests, as he made a brief visit to Cali, the scene of violence over the weekend.

Duque will meet later on Monday with strike leaders in the capital Bogota.

Demonstrations began on April 28, fueled by outrage at a tax plan which would have raised sales taxes. That proposal was canceled but protesters’ demands now include a basic income and the withdrawal of a long-debated health reform that opponents say is too vague to correct inequalities.

“We know we must prioritize a series of interventions that are necessary to generate hope and a future for our youth,” Duque said, listing free tuition at public universities, political participation and entrepreneurship as issues to be discussed.

The human rights ombudsman has reported 26 people killed since protests began, but says seven were unrelated to the marches themselves.

Human Rights Watch said it has reports of 38 deaths, while local rights groups Temblores and Indepaz have reported 47 killings, the majority by police.

Though Duque initially insisted he would not visit Cali – which has become a protest epicenter – he made an overnight visit after clashes left over a dozen injured.

Nine indigenous demonstrators, who were marching as part of a “minga” or protest, were wounded by gunshots, the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca said in a statement on Sunday.

Four people were wounded by minga protesters, Cali’s police said.

Duque called for an end to violence and for roadblocks causing shortages of food and fuel in cities to be lifted.

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