BOGOTA, COLOMBIA - Colombian President Ivan Duque announced Friday he was deploying military troops to Cali, at the epicenter of bloody anti-government protests across the country that have left dozens dead over the past month.
"Starting tonight, the maximum deployment of military assistance to the national police in the city of Cali begins," Duque announced after chairing a security meeting in the city of 2.2 million people.
Three people died Friday during the protests in Cali, authorities said, the latest fatalities in weeks of unrest.
The new toll brings to 49 the deaths officially reported to date, two of them police officers. Human Rights Watch puts the tally at 63.
The latest deaths occurred in clashes between "those blocking and those trying to get through" a barricade, Cali's Mayor Jorge Ivan Ospina said in a video posted to social media.
Video footage showed a man lying in a pool of blood and another nearby wielding a gun, who was then attacked by a group of people.
Ospina regretted what he described as an "insane situation of death and pain."
"We cannot allow these circumstances to keep happening in Cali," he said. "We must not fall into the temptation of violence and death," he added.
Colombians first took to the streets on April 28 against a proposed tax increase many said would leave them poorer even as the coronavirus pandemic was erasing jobs and eating into savings.
Though the reform was quickly withdrawn, it triggered a broad anti-government mobilization by people who felt they were left to fend for themselves in the health crisis, and angry over the heavy-handed response of the security forces.
The police clampdown has provoked international condemnation.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Colombia's Vice President Marta Lucia Ramirez in Washington on Friday.
The U.S. diplomat "expressed his concern and condolences for the loss of life during recent protests in Colombia and reiterated the unquestionable right of citizens to protest peacefully," according to spokesperson Ned Price.
Blinken also "welcomed the national dialogue President (Ivan) Duque has convened as an opportunity for the Colombian people to work together to construct a peaceful, prosperous future."
Two weeks of negotiations to end the unrest have yet to bear fruit.
In order to move forward, protest leaders insist the government must acknowledge abuses by the armed forces.
But Bogota, while conceding individual bad apples, claims leftist guerrillas and dissident FARC fighters have infiltrated the demonstrations to foment violence and vandalism.
On Monday, the White House had urged Colombia to find more than 100 people reported missing as a result of the unrest.
Some 2,000 people have been reported injured.