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Colombia Protests Mark 2 Months of Social Crisis

Demonstrators block a street during a protest against the government in Medellin, Colombia, June 28, 2021.

Demonstrations by opponents of the government of conservative President Ivan Duque, marked by clashes with the security forces, took place on Monday in several cities in Colombia for the two months of the social protest that left more than 60 dead in the country.

The country has known since April 28 a social crisis that started against a plan to raise taxes, since withdrawn, and has turned into a mass movement with almost daily demonstrations.

The demonstrators are calling for police reform and more social justice in the face of the consequences of the pandemic which has caused an increase in the poverty rate among the 50 million inhabitants of the country, from 37% to 42%.

The riot police intervened Monday "on twenty occasions in several cities," the director general of police, General Jorge Vargas told the media.

A dozen public transport vehicles were also "vandalized," he said.

Protesters attacked police facilities in Bogota, Medellin (North West) and Pereira (West) and a statue of Christopher Columbus was knocked down by protesters in Barranquilla (North).

In Medellin, demonstrators were beaten back harshly by water cannons and riot control forces.

In the capital, dozens of people drew silhouettes of civilians murdered by soldiers during the five decades of armed conflict between the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) and the government, which resurfaced despite the 2016 peace agreement.

The National Strike Committee, at the initiative of social mobilization, announced in mid-June a temporary suspension of demonstrations until July 20. But it does not represent all the sectors involved in the movement.

At least 61 people have died, including two police officers, since the start of the protests, according to the authorities and the People's Defense, a public body responsible for ensuring respect for human rights.

The United States, the European Union and the UN have denounced the excessive use of force by the police since the start of the protest.

According to Human Rights Watch, there are "credible allegations" of the deaths of 34 people directly linked to the protests. Among them, 20 died as a result of police actions, 16 of which were shot with the intention of "killing," estimates the NGO

The government assures us that underground groups involved in drug trafficking and the National Liberation Army (ELN), the last active guerrilla in the country, have infiltrated the demonstrations in order to sow chaos.

In power since 2018, President Duque, whose helicopter came under fire on Friday near the Venezuelan border, will step down in 2022 and cannot be re-elected for a second term.