Colombia's public school teachers start two-day strike

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Public school teachers in Colombia launched a two-day strike on Thursday to protest violence against the profession and killings of activists and other community leaders, leaving more than 7 million children without classes.

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The teachers’ protest precedes a general strike planned for March 25. The action is part of three-month-old protests organized by unions and student groups against the social and economic policies of President Ivan Duque.

The Colombian Federation of Education Workers (Fecode), the largest teachers’ union in the country, said 300,000 teachers were taking part in the strike.

“Our teachers continue to be threatened and attacked,” Fecode head Nelson Alarcon told Reuters, adding that so far this year, one teacher has been killed and 240 have received threats.

“This government is indolent. It isn’t taking measures to protect their lives,” he said during a protest in Bogota.

The teachers, who were taking part in marches in the South American county’s major cities, denounced the killings and threats against human rights activists, indigenous leaders, labor figures and other social leaders.

Teachers called on the government to honor agreements to improve their medical care and increase resources for public education.

According to Indepaz, a think tank focused on peace-building, 51 social leaders have been killed in Colombia this year. In 2019, 253 social leaders were killed.

The government blames the killings on dissidents of demobilized guerrilla-group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN) and drug-trafficking criminal groups.

Education Minister Maria Victoria Angulo said the government has met teachers’ demands and moved staff who have received threats in insecure regions.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Additional reporting by Camilo Cohecha and Javier Andres Rojas; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Cynthia Osterman