At least 70 arrested in latest round of Colombia protests

The demonstrations marked the end of a weeks-long pause in the unrest over taxes, police and poverty.

A demonstrator clashes with riot police during a protest in Medellin against the government of President Ivan Duque [Joaquin Sarmiento/AFP]

At least 70 people have been arrested in the latest round of anti-government protests in Colombia, according to police.

Authorities announced on Wednesday, a day after Colombians again took to the street in demonstrations that first began in April in opposition to a since-abandoned tax hike. The protests have shifted into a wider movement against the right-wing administration of President Ivan Duque.

Tuesday’s demonstration against the government’s introduction to parliament of a new, more mild tax proposal marked the end of a weeks-long pause in demonstrations, which prompted security crackdowns that observers say have left at least 60 people dead.

The government puts the number of dead at about a third of that and the United Nations has called for an independent probe into the killings.

Authorities said 50 people – 24 civilians and 26 agents – were injured in the cities of Bogota, Medellin and Cali amid clashes between riot police and protesters.

While the government has said the most recent round of protests were largely peaceful, officials have repeatedly accused armed groups of infiltrating the demonstrations.

Those arrested on Tuesday faced charges including blocking public roads, damage to property, throwing dangerous objects or substances and firearm possession.

Police reform, poverty relief

The demonstrators have also demanded an end to police repression and more supportive public policies to alleviate the economic effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 40 percent of the country’s 50 million inhabitants are now living in poverty.

On Wednesday, the government presented to legislators a bill to reform the police, who are accused of abuses against civilian protesters.

It proposes better training for officers and sanctions for those who do not identify themselves when carrying out arrests, or who refuse to be filmed while carrying out their duties.

But it does not suggest removing the police from the control of the Ministry of National Defense, as demanded by protesters.

Police officials have said the police must remain part of the military to combat violence, drug trafficking and smuggling.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, among other groups, has condemned Colombia’s “disproportionate” and “lethal” response to the protests and has also recommended separating the police opertions from the military.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies