Colombia deploys police, soldiers for fresh demos

Bogota (AFP) –


Colombia will deploy thousands of police and soldiers in anticipation of demonstrations planned for Tuesday, officials said, as protesters seek to resume an anti-government campaign that has been met with deadly force.

Defense Minister Diego Molano warned the government would not tolerate "vandalism, nor violence, nor roadblocks" as the Bogota city council said more than 6,000 police and 2,700 soldiers will be deployed to control 35 events planned for the capital.

"Tomorrow there will be a series of peaceful demonstrations... but the intelligence we have suggests there will be infiltration by some dissident groups" of the now disbanded left-wing guerilla force the FARC, or from the ELN, which has not laid down its weapons, Molano said at a public event in Bogota.

He said the factions aimed to "finance the vandalistic activities and violence and obstruction."

"We will not let this happen," he said.

Officials said at least 35 people have been arrested in recent days for allegedly planning attacks against the armed forces, and several cities and towns have introduced night-time curfews and banned public alcohol consumption.

Colombia was rocked by weeks of protests that broke out late April in opposition to a proposed tax hike that morphed into a mass movement against the right-wing administration of President Ivan Duque.

The demonstrators demanded an end to police repression. as well as more supportive public policies to alleviate the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has plunged more than 40 percent of the country's 50 million inhabitants into poverty.

The international community has condemned the security response that has left more than 60 people dead, according to the country's ombudsman.

A major group representing the protesters -- the so-called National Strike Committee -- said on June 16 it would suspend the demonstrations, even though smaller groups had continued demonstrations and roadblocks throughout.

Colombia celebrates its independence day on Tuesday, and the government will put a new tax reform proposal to parliament.

Protests will resume "because the national government did not want to discuss these proposals with the National Strike Committee," the body said in a statement that also denounced violence against its members.

Earlier this month, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights hit out at Colombia's "disproportionate" and "lethal" response to the protests.