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Colombia police detain dozens in renewed protests

Police in Colombia have detained 70 people in new anti-government protests that drew thousands of people to the streets across the South American country and left dozens of people wounded.

Back in April, protests broke out in Colombia in opposition to a proposed tax hike. The rallies soon tuned into an uprising of unprecedented scope against the right-wing administration of President Ivan Duque. The unrest lasted for weeks and rocked the country of nearly 50 million people.

Following a weeks-long hiatus, angry Colombians returned to the streets on Tuesday.

According to authorities, dozens of civilians and agents were injured during clashes in the capital, Bogota, and the cities of Medellin and Cali. Still, the government described the anti-government demonstrations as largely peaceful.

“In the last few hours, the national police captured 70 people, 69 of them caught in the act, for crimes committed in several cities on July 20, and one more on a warrant for homicide,” police said in a statement.

The detainees were accused of blocking public roads, damaging property, throwing dangerous objects or substances, and possessing firearms. Bogota claims armed groups had infiltrated the protests.

According to the state-run human rights watchdog Ombudsman’s Office of Colombia, 50 people, including 24 civilians, sustained injuries in the Tuesday protests.

The demonstrators have been demanding an end to police repression and more supportive public policies to lessen the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 40 percent of Colombia’s population is now living in poverty.

At least 61 people, mostly civilians, died in the protests in April and May, according to government figures, though the US-based Human Rights Watch has cited credible reports of 67 deaths.

The so-called National Strike Committee, a major group representing protesters, said last month that it would suspend the demonstrations, although smaller groups continued and roadblocks remained. The committee, however, called fresh rallies for Tuesday, Colombia’s Independence Day, as the government sent a new tax proposal to parliament.

Separately on Wednesday, the government presented to legislators a bill to reform the police, who are accused of abuses against civilian protesters. The proposal included better training for officers and punishments for those who do not identify themselves when carrying out detentions. The bill, however, does not suggest removing the police from the control of the Defense Ministry — as demanded by protesters.

“The national police must be part of the Ministry of Defense because of the conditions of threat and violence that still exist in Colombia,” said police Chief Diego Molano. The institution “has functions in the fight against drug trafficking, in citizen security… in the fight against smuggling, which require coordination with the military forces,” he added.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has slammed Colombia for its “disproportionate” and “lethal” response to the protests, and has also recommended that police be separated from the military.

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