Thousands, including indigenous people, march in peaceful Colombia protests

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Thousands of union members, teachers, students and indigenous people participated in a national strike in Colombia on Wednesday to protest the social and economic policies of President Ivan Duque, the killing of human rights activists and police violence.

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The marches are the latest in a sporadic series of protests which began late last year, including September demonstrations against police brutality that led to 13 deaths.

The government warned protesters of increased risk of coronavirus infections. Colombia, which was under lockdown for more than five months, is set to top one million confirmed infections this weekend.

Protesters are demanding a variety of government concessions, including guaranteed income for those who lost jobs in the pandemic, more funding for health and education and steps to stop gender-based violence.

“We’re asking for no more massacres against our indigenous leaders,” said Harold Arias, 32, who was among thousands of indigenous people visiting Bogota to protest in Bolivar Plaza.

“We’re not scared of coronavirus. We’re scared of going back to our territories without getting a dialogue with the president.”

Protest leaders had demanded a meeting with Duque to discuss the murders of activists, whose deaths the government attributes to criminal gangs and leftist rebels.

Some 10,000 indigenous people came to Bogota to protest this week, principally from southwestern Colombia.

“Not even the pandemic will stop our movement,” said Hermes Pete, head of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC).

Most of the indigenous demonstrators began their journey home on Wednesday afternoon.

Bogota mayor Claudia Lopez attributed the day’s peacefulness to the presence of indigenous people, who use the term “minga” to refer to collective action.

“We are grateful to the minga for the great example it gave to the city and to the social organizations who have followed it,” Lopez said on Twitter.

Reporting by Nelson Bocanegra; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Grant McCool