Curfew called for Colombian city of Cali amid national protest

BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombian unions, student groups and other protesters marched on Thursday against rumored economic reform plans and amid rising discontent with the government of President Ivan Duque, while the city of Cali called a curfew from 7 p.m. local time.

Hundreds of thousands took to the streets to demand the government maintain the minimum wage for young people and the universal right to a pension, even though the government has repeatedly denied it is considering those changes.

Other groups of marchers protested what they say is a lack of government action to prevent the murder of hundreds of human rights activists, corruption at universities and other issues.

Duque had repeatedly warned his government would not tolerate violence, and police deployed tear gases in multiple cities, including in Bogota’s storied Bolivar Plaza.

As of 4 p.m. local time eight civilians and 28 police officers had been injured, the police and interior ministry said, while 10 people had been arrested and another 22 were being temporarily detained. Some 207,000 people marched, they said.

“There has been a very positive citizen participation in practically the whole country,” Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutierrez told journalists. “There have been a series of isolated incidents that have been controlled appropriately and adequately by the national police.”

In the southwestern city of Cali, where protesters blocked roads and vandalized mass transit buses, mayor Maurice Armitage called a curfew from 7 p.m. local time until 6 a.m. Friday morning.

In Bogota, protesters also blocked roads and damaged buses. Police used tear gas in the northwestern neighborhood of Suba in an effort to break a blockade that closed a mass transit station early on Thursday. A fire of unclear origin was burning at the protest site as the sun went down.

“People from across the spectrum marched and I hope our president understands he has to grab the reins of the country and give us an assured path and hope for the young,” said 65-year-old pensioner and Duque voter Pablo Merchan. “He’s been in office for more than a year and hasn’t done anything.”

Supporters of the march, which include major unions, allege Duque’s government wants to privatize the public pension fund.

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“No reform has been proposed,” Duque told viewers during a rare Facebook Live broadcast this week. “It has been said that we want to pay young people less than the minimum wage. That’s also a lie.”

At a time of unrest in other Latin American countries, police raids this week on activists and a culture magazine drew wide criticism on social media. Staff at the Cartel Urbano magazine posted videos showing police searching their offices.

Chile’s conservative government is grappling with anti-austerity marches in the biggest crisis to hit that country since its return to democracy in 1990, while protests in Bolivia over vote-tampering allegations led long-time leftist President Evo Morales to resign earlier this month. His ouster has inflamed tensions in crisis-hit Nicaragua.

Reporting by Carlos Vargas, Andres Rojas, Daniel Munoz and Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota; Editing by Alistair Bell and Bill Berkrot

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