December 2, 2019 / 9:35 PM / 4 days ago

Colombian government asks strikers to call off protest, offers more dialogue

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia’s government on Monday asked unions and student organizations that are set to hold a third national strike in as many weeks on Wednesday to cancel the protest and agreed to union demands to meet individually with the government.

Hundreds of thousands of Colombians have participated in protests against President Ivan Duque’s social and economic policies over the past two weeks, imperiling the government’s tax reform proposal and leading Duque to announce a “great national dialogue” on social issues.

“In the face of the national clamor and the economic effects the strike is having, we ask them to suspend the strike on the fourth of December and continue to advance the conversation that we have,” presidency official Diego Molano told journalists.

Major unions that are part of the National Strike Committee, the group that called the original strike on Nov. 21, have demanded the government meet only with the committee, instead of including business groups and others in talks.

“We’ve told the National Strike Committee that the government of President Duque has all the will for dialogue without ultimatums, without pressure and for the good of Colombia,” Molano said.

“And we newly suggested a parallel dialogue to the national conversation so we can start a conversation on the 13 points,” he added, referring to 13 committee demands, including that the government abandon the tax reform, which would reduce duties for businesses.

The government made the proposal to the committee on Saturday, Molano said, but had not yet received an answer. The Central Union of Workers (CUT) did not respond to a request for comment.

Demonstrators have rallied against economic plans - such as a rise in the pension age and a cut to the minimum wage for young people - that Duque denies supporting, as well what they say is a lack of government action to stop corruption and the killing of hundreds of human rights activists.

The injury and eventual death of 18-year-old protester Dilan Cruz has also motivated demonstrators, who are calling for the ESMAD riot police to be dissolved.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Peter Cooney

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