First signs of appeasement in talks between Colombian government and protesters


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Bogota (AFP)

Colombian protesters made cautious overtures to the government on Tuesday as part of talks to end weeks of violent social unrest that have left dozens dead and hundreds injured.

The National Strike Committee, which represents unions, students and indigenous peoples, among others, said there were “approaches to lift” the roadblocks that crippled transport for weeks, especially in the south of the country.

The lifting of roadblocks is a precondition for the government to any settlement with the protesters, who in turn insist that President Ivan Duque acknowledge the violence committed by the security forces against them.

“The progress made towards lifting the blockades is very important for Colombians,” Presidential adviser Emilio Archila said on Tuesday, in the first signs of appeasement since talks began on May 7, with many pauses along the way. .

The National Strike Committee, although representing a large number of protesters, does not speak for all the groups that have participated in protests in the Duque government since April 28.

But an agreement with the committee is seen as a major step towards resolving the crisis.

“The youth of Cali have said that the people on the strike committee do not represent us. We will not give up and we will not stop until the fire is extinguished,” said Andres Velasquez, a leader of the protest in the city of Cali, at the heart of the unrest, W Radio said.

The government blames roadblocks for the deaths of two babies in ambulances unable to move and for massive economic losses, as cargo deliveries are affected even as the country is reeling from the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

– ‘Deep concern’ –

The number of blockades has risen from 800 at the start of the protests to 36 today, Defense Minister Diego Molano said.

Talks with the strike committee took place Tuesday at a neutral location in Bogota as the country recovered from the most violent day of the protracted crisis to date, with clashes leaving at least 13 dead as thousands people demonstrated in Cali last Friday, prompting a deployment in town and elsewhere.

The protests were initially against a proposed tax hike, according to Colombians, would leave them poorer even if they struggled with the loss of income linked to the pandemic.

The proposal was quickly withdrawn, but the protests turned into a broader denunciation of the government and the armed forces.

Poverty, unemployment, inequality and the fallout from the coronavirus epidemic have sparked widespread anger and resentment in Colombia.

In five weeks of unrest, 59 people have died across Colombia according to official data, with more than 2,300 civilians and uniformed personnel injured.

The NGO Human Rights Watch said it had “credible reports” of at least 63 deaths in the country during the first major uprising since a 2016 peace deal with guerrilla groups that ended decades of civil war.

The crackdown by the armed forces on protesters drew international condemnation, and UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet on Sunday expressed “deep concern” over the violence in Cali.


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