Colombia calls for dialogue with protest leaders

Bogota, ColombiaUpdated: May 07, 2021, 09:53 AM IST

Colombia's President Ivan Duque. Photograph:(Reuters)

Story highlights

At least 24 people have died in clashes between protesters and security forces while hundreds more have been injured

Colombia's government on Thursday invited protest leaders to a dialogue in an attempt to calm tensions following more than a week of deadly demonstrations against President Ivan Duque.

At least 24 people have died in clashes between protesters and security forces while hundreds more have been injured.

Thousands of Colombians including indigenous people, unions and students have taken to the streets to express anger over the government's policies on health, education and inequality.

They have also denounced what they see as a heavy-handed and lethal response from security forces.

"We have to listen to all sectors of the country but the country also has to listen to the government," presidential advisor Miguel Ceballos told Blu Radio. "That includes those marching but also those not marching."

Ceballos said the government would meet protest leaders, including the National Strike Committee, on Monday.

"The government first wanted to invite those that organize the National Strike Committee although understanding that the mobilizations are not exclusive to this group," said Ceballos.

The National Strike Committee represents various groups including indigenous people, unions, environmentalists and students.

Ceballos later wrote on Twitter that Duque and Vice President Lucia Ramirez would attend the meeting.

Protest leaders have said they would be prepared to have talks directly with Duque, but not with intermediaries.

"The dialogue needs to be those on the streets, which is young people," said Bogota Mayor Claudia Lopez, one of the protesters' main targets.

Duque has faced occasional mass protests against his rule since 2019 and the latest social movement began on April 28, initially against a tax reform that has since been withdrawn.

Although the demonstrations have largely been peaceful, there have been violent clashes throughout the country.

The government blames the violence on armed groups including left-wing rebels and drug traffickers.

The United Nations, European Union, United States and NGOs have accused security forces of using excessive force.

Speaking to journalists in Washington on Thursday, Interior Minister Daniel Palacios said various government agencies were collaborating to determine who was responsible for the violence and "if there has been any use of excessive force for them to be held accountable."