Three dead after Colombia protests, as country wakes to transport problems

BOGOTA (Reuters) – Three people were killed in events following Thursday marches across Colombia, the defense minister said, as cities woke on Friday to widespread public transportation problems and calls for another protest.

More than 250,000 people marched on Thursday to express growing discontent with President Ivan Duque’s government, including rumored economic reforms and ongoing anger at what protesters say is a lack of government action to stop corruption and the murder of human rights activists.

Former leftist presidential candidate Gustavo Petro called for another demonstration on Friday afternoon, urging people to bang pots and pans in Bogota’s central square in a traditional expression of protest known as a “cacerolazo.” His call is not supported by the unions which organized Thursday’s march.

The protest coincided with demonstrations in other Latin American countries, including anti-austerity marches in Chile, protests over vote-tampering allegations in Bolvia that led President Evo Morales to resign and inflamed tensions in crisis-hit Nicaragua.

The details surrounding the deaths, in Valle del Cauca province, were under investigation, Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo told journalists.

“In the last few hours authorities have confirmed the death of two people in Buenaventura in the midst of disturbances and one more in Candelaria, both municipalities of Valle,” he said, adding that a group of people intended to loot the Viva Buenaventura mall.

“Because of this violent act, the security forces went to confront the event, while being subject to violent aggression with the throwing of rocks and sticks. 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.”

Blockades continued in four municipalities, Trujillo added. Though the vast majority of 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 of police treating protesters roughly, including a riot cop kicking a protester in the face.

Commuters in Bogota and other cities faced long delays on Friday as authorities tried to normalize service at dozens of mass transit stations vandalized on Thursday. Bogota’s mayor announced a ban on alcohol sales beginning at noon and said repairs would cost millions of dollars.

Petro’s calls for a Friday protest were not echoed by unions, the head of the General Work Confederacy (CGT) union told local radio, warning against political “opportunism” associated with the marches.

“We’ll have to wait a few days to see when we are going to meet with the president,” said Julio Roberto Gomez, referring to meetings promised by Duque in a brief speech late on Thursday night.

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