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    Thousands of Colombians in fresh protests against President Duque

    BOGOTA (AFP) – Thousands of people took to the streets in several cities across Colombia on Wednesday in fresh protests against President Ivan Duque.

    Dozens of people have been killed in protests that erupted around the country on April 28, initially against a tax hike that would have mostly affected the middle classes, but which have morphed into a major anti-government movement.

    The protests on Wednesday were peaceful and colourful during the day but after nightfall deteriorated into clashes with police in the capital Bogota, Medellin in the northwest and other cities around the country.

    The demonstrators demanded an end to police repression and more supportive public policies to alleviate the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has plunged more than 40 per cent of the country’s 50 million inhabitants into poverty.

    “We need opportunities, and for education, health, to be a right and not a privilege,” said 15-year-old high school student Sofia Perico, who came to protest with her family in front of a hotel in central Bogota where a delegation of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) was holding meetings to evaluate the social turmoil.

    Demonstrators clash with riot police during a protest against the government of Colombian President Ivan Duque in Bogota. PHOTO: AFP

    “We want a change in social policy, in economic policy (…) the people simply cannot take it any longer,” said teacher Dernir Galvis, another demonstrator.

    The crisis has seen almost daily demonstrations and roadblocks over the past six weeks, affecting in particular the southwest of the country, and violent clashes with the police.

    The June 6-10 visit by the IACHR comes after international criticism of police’s violent repression of the anti-government protests.

    In Bogota, a group of indigenous people tried to topple statues of Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella on an avenue leading to El Dorado International Airport.

    “We are here today to denounce these crimes against humanity that were committed more than 500 years ago, and which continue to be committed today. The ways of governing and repressing the people remain the same,” Edgar Velasco, 36, told AFP.

    At least 61 people, including two police officers, have died since the protests began, according to the authorities.

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