BOGOTA (Reuters) - Thousands of Colombians gathered for renewed protests on Friday and sporadic looting erupted in several parts of the capital Bogota, after mass marches on Thursday ended in three deaths.
More than 250,000 people marched on Thursday to express growing discontent with President Ivan Duque’s government, including over rumored economic reforms the president has denied and anger at what protesters say is a lack of government action to stop corruption and the murder of human rights activists.
Thousands gathered on Friday afternoon in Bogota’s Bolivar Plaza for a “cacerolazo” - a traditional Latin American expression of protest in which people bang pots and pans.
“We are here to keep protesting against the Duque government,” said 25-year-old art student Katheryn Martinez, as she banged a pot with a fork accompanied by her father Arturo, 55.
“It’s an inefficient government that kills children and doesn’t acknowledge it,” she said, referring to a recent bombing targeted at rebels that killed eight teenagers and led the former defense minister to resign.
The crowd, which included families and elderly people, was abruptly dispersed by tear gas, sending protesters running up the steep narrow streets of the historic district.
Some protesters regrouped at nearby intersections and continued chanting, while people in other neighborhoods gathered in celebratory cacerolazos, temporarily blocking some roads.
A 9 p.m. curfew is in force for all of Bogota with the exception of the Bosa, Kennedy and Ciudad Bolivar neighborhoods, where the curfew is to begin at 8 p.m.
Several supermarkets in the south of the city were looted as protesters, many masked, burned items in the street and blocked roads. Other protesters stole a public bus.
Some people were taking advantage of the protests to “sow chaos”, Duque said in a televised address on Friday evening.
“From next week I will start a national conversation that will strengthen the current agenda of social policies,” Duque said, adding dialogue will “permit us to close social gaps, fight corruption more effectively and build, between all of us, peace with legality.”
Three deaths in Valle del Cauca province were being investigated, Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo told journalists on Friday morning.
He said authorities had confirmed the death of two people in Buenaventura and one more in Candelaria, adding a group of people had tried to loot the Viva Buenaventura mall.
“As a result of the confrontation between vandals and security forces and in events that are the subject of investigation by the attorney general’s office, two people were killed,” he said.
Though the vast majority of Thursday’s marchers participated peacefully, 98 people were arrested, while 122 civilians and 151 members of the security forces were injured, he said.
The authorities were conducting 11 preliminary investigations into misconduct by members of the security forces, Trujillo added, after images circulated on social media showed police treating protesters roughly, including a riot officer kicking a protester in the face.
The protests have coincided with demonstrations in other Latin American countries, including anti-austerity marches in Chile, protests over vote-tampering allegations in Bolivia that led President Evo Morales to resign, and inflamed tensions in Ecuador and crisis-hit Nicaragua.
Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb and Nelson Bocanegra; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Daniel Wallis
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