Colombia braces for eighth day of anti-government protests

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Bogota (AFP)

Colombia braced on Wednesday for a new day of protests against President Ivan Duque following a week of deadly clashes between demonstrators and security forces that brought international condemnation.

Students, unions, indigenous people and other groups began assembling Wednesday morning in the South American country's major cities, including the capital Bogota, Medellin in the northwest and Cali in the southwest.

They are protesting against the Duque government's policies on health, education, security, and to denounce violence by security forces.

According to official figures, at least 19 people have died with more than 800 others injured and 89 people reported as missing during the week of clashes.

NGOs claim the death toll is over 30.

Despite a call for calm from the international community on Tuesday, fresh havoc was wreaked on the capital overnight.

Thirty civilians and 16 police officers were injured amid numerous attacks on police stations, the Bogota mayor's office said.

Protests broke out on April 28 against a proposed tax reform following a call from the National Strike Committee, which represents groups such as unions, indigenous people and civil associations.

On Tuesday the United Nations, the European Union and the United States, as well as human rights organizations, hit out at the security forces for "excessive use of force."

One of the worst incidents took place in Cali on Monday night when five people died and 30 were injured in violence there.

The government blames the violence on armed gangs including dissidents of the disbanded leftist guerrillas FARC, members of the another leftist rebel group, the ELN, and drug-traffickers.

On Wednesday morning, many roadblocks remained in Cali -- the third largest city in Colombia and one of the most violent in Latin America -- causing fuel shortages and worries about the delivery of medical supplies with the country struggling against a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Duque has promised to open "spaces for dialogue" with the various sectors protesting, although he has defended the security forces and said they are the main victims of the violence.