Colombia anti-govt protest clashes kill at least 10 in Cali

A demonstrator wearing a gas mask and holding a makeshift shield reacts during clashes with riot police in Madrid, Colombia, on May 28, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

BOGOTA (AFP) - At least 10 people in the city of Cali were killed in a day of anti-government protests, authorities said on Saturday (May 29), as Colombia enters its second month of demonstrations that have met violent repression.

President Ivan Duque announced on Friday he was deploying military troops to Cali while the nation marked a full month of Colombia-wide rallies that have morphed into a broad anti-establishment mobilisation.

"Ten people" are dead, "this is the toll we have this morning" in events linked to Friday's demonstrations, Cali's security secretary Carlos Rojas told Caracol radio

Police said eight of the 10 were shot dead.

He spoke after reports of violent street clashes. In one case, a representative from the Cali prosecutor's office said an off-duty investigator had shot at a crowd, killing a civilian, before being lynched by protesters.

Video footage showed a man lying in a pool of blood and another nearby wielding a gun; that man was then attacked by a group of people.

"In the south of the city, we had a real scene of confrontation and almost an urban war where many people not only lost their lives, but we also had a significant number of injuries," said Rojas.

After chairing a security meeting in the city, Duque announced on Friday "the maximum deployment of military assistance to the national police" would begin immediately.

Militarised response

Human Rights Watch, which has previously put the death toll higher than the official one, said the situation in the city of 2.2 million was "very serious."

Jose Miguel Vivanco, the rights group's executive director for the Americas, urged Duque to take "urgent measures to de-escalate, including a specific order prohibiting agents of the state from using firearms."

Analysts have blamed the government's militarised history for its response to the protests.

For more than 50 years, Colombia's war against leftist Farc guerillas eclipsed all other government priorities, with the state emerging from the conflict militarily strong but weak on social redress.

A man carries an injured demonstrator during clashes with riot police in Medellin, Colombia, on May 28, 2021. PHOTO: AFP
Demonstrators clash with riot police during a new protest against the government in Medellin, Colombia, on May 28, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

In 2019, the year after Duque took power, students took to the streets demanding free and more accessible public education, better jobs and a supportive government.

The coronavirus outbreak put an end to that without Duque having to make major concessions.

But on April 28, fury at a proposed tax increase on the middle classes led people onto the streets again.

Demonstrators take part in a protest against the government of Colombian President Ivan Duque, in Bogota on May 28, 2021. PHOTO: AFP
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Though the proposal was quickly withdrawn, it had triggered a broad anti-government mobilisation by people who felt they were left to fend for themselves in the health crisis, and who were further angered by the heavy-handed response of the security forces.

Mostly peaceful protests by day have often turned into riots at night and running battles with the armed forces.

Protesters have kept barricades burning countrywide and blocked dozens of key roads, causing shortages of many products.

Meanwhile, Colombia continues to see record numbers of coronavirus infections, and hospitals are approaching collapse.

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