Demonstrators in Colombia on Monday demanded a new mass rally after 19 people died and more than 800 were injured in clashes during five days of demonstrations against a proposed government tax reform.
The police’s human rights ombudsman said 18 civilians and a policeman died in violence during the protests that began across the country on April 28, while 846 people, including 306 civilians, were injured.
Authorities have detained 431 people and the government deployed the military in the most affected cities.
Some NGOs accused police of firing on civilians.
In the face of the unrest, President Ivan Duque’s government on Sunday ordered that the tax reform proposal be withdrawn from Congress, where it was discussed.
And on Monday, Colombian Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla resigned, saying in a statement that his continued presence “would make it difficult to build the necessary consensus quickly and effectively” for a new reform proposal.
Despite the withdrawal of the bill, which protesters said would make Colombians poorer in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, an umbrella group called the National Strike Committee demanded new demonstrations on Wednesday.
“The people on the streets are demanding much more than withdrawing the tax reform,” it said in a statement.
Duque, whose approval has dropped to 33 percent, has cracked down on protesters’ “vandalism” as the country battles a deadly second pandemic.
Despite this, dozens of people took to the streets again on Monday to protest in the capital Bogota, the northwestern city of Medellin, Cali in the southwest and Barranquilla in the north.
Most of the demonstrations, which started last Wednesday, began peacefully before going down in collisions between protesters and public forces.
Defense Secretary Diego Molano claimed the violence was “delayed, organized, funded by FARC dissidents” and members of the ELN.
The FARC – the revolutionary armed forces in Colombia – left-wing rebels signed a peace agreement with the government in 2016 to end more than half a century of conflict and leave the ELN – National Liberation Army – as the last operative guerrilla group in Land.
Alarm raised by military deployment
The tax reform had been heavily criticized for punishing the middle class in a time of economic crisis.
The government introduced the bill on April 15 as a means of financing public spending.
The goal was to generate $ 6.3 billion between 2022 and 2031 to resume the fourth largest economy in Latin America.
Due to coronavirus restrictions, Colombia’s economy shrank by 6.8 percent in 2020, which is the worst result in half a century.
Unemployment reached 16.8 percent in March, while 42.5 percent of the population of 50 million now live in poverty.
On Sunday, Duque said he would draw up a new bill without the most controversial points: an increase in VAT on goods and services and an expansion of the taxpayer base.
Meanwhile, Temblore’s NGO said it had registered 940 cases of police violence against civilians during the riots and was investigating the deaths of eight protesters allegedly attacked by police.
Jose Miguel Vivanco, head of Americas at Human Rights Watch, said one person was killed by police in Cali, one of the worst-hit cities in the area.
The deployment of the military on the streets has caused concern in Colombia.
In September 2020, 13 young people died in clashes during a demonstration against police violence.
Another 75 people were injured by projectiles allegedly launched by the police.
The protesters had been angered by the death of 43-year-old Javier Ordonez while being brutally beaten by an officer.