By Julia Symmes Cobb
BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombians gathered for renewed protests on Friday as sporadic looting took place in several parts of the capital Bogota, after mass marches on Thursday ended in three deaths. More than 250,000 people marched on Thursday to express growing discontent with President Ivan Duque's government, including over rumored economic reforms the president has denied and anger at what protesters say is a lack of government action to stop corruption and the murder of human rights activists.
Thousands gathered on Friday afternoon in Bogotá's Bolivar Plaza, after former leftist presidential candidate Gustavo Petro and others called for another demonstration following a spontaneous “cacerolazo” - a traditional expression of protest in which people bang pots and pans - the night before.
"We are here to keep protesting against the Duque government,” said 25-year-old art student Katheryn Martinez, as she banged a pot with a fork in the plaza, accompanied by her father Arturo, 55.
"It's an inefficient government that kills children and doesn't acknowledge it,” she said, referring to a recent bombing targeted at rebel dissidents that killed eight teenagers and led the former defense minister to resign.
The protests have coincided with demonstrations in other Latin American countries, including anti-austerity marches in Chile, protests over vote-tampering allegations in Bolivia that led President Evo Morales to resign and inflamed tensions in crisis-hit Nicaragua. Details surrounding the three deaths in Valle del Cauca province were under investigation, Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo told journalists earlier on Friday. "In the last few hours authorities have confirmed the death of two people in Buenaventura in the midst of disturbances and one more in Candelaria, both municipalities of Valle," he said, adding that a group of people had intended to loot the Viva Buenaventura mall. "As a result of the confrontation between vandals and security forces and in events that are the subject of investigation by the attorney general's office, two people were killed," he said.
Though the vast majority of marchers participated peacefully, 98 people were arrested, while 122 civilians and 151 members of the security forces were injured on Thursday, he said. The authorities were conducting 11 preliminary investigations into misconduct by members of the security forces, Trujillo added, after images circulated on social media showed police treating protesters roughly, including a riot officer kicking a protester in the face. Commuters in Bogota and other cities faced long delays on Friday as authorities tried to normalize mass transit service.
Dozens of Bogota's bus stations were closed and police used tear gas in a least two parts of the city's working class south in an attempt to clear road blockades. Several supermarkets in the area were also looted and some protesters stole a public bus, according to local media reports. Bogota's mayor banned alcohol sales and said vandalism repairs would cost millions of dollars. Friday's protest was not supported by one union that helped lead Thursday's marches. The head of the General Work Confederacy (CGT) union on local radio warned against political "opportunism" associated with the marches. "We'll have to wait a few days to see when we are going to meet with the president," said Julio Roberto Gomez, referring to meetings promised by Duque in a brief speech late on Thursday night. Meanwhile, the head of the Central Workers Union said his group would participate in the Friday protest.
(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Bill Berkrot)
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Updated Date: Nov 23, 2019 04:10:39 IST