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Death toll rises after days of mass protests in Colombia

Demonstrations began in Colombia more than a week ago over a tax reform plan. Since then, there has been violent clashes between police and protesters.
Credit: AP
Police face anti-government protesters who are blocking a highway in Gachancipa, Colombia, Friday, May 7, 2021.

WASHINGTON — More than a week of national protests in Colombia over a tax reform proposal have left at least 26 dead and hundreds injured.

Colombia's President Ivan Duque planned to meet Friday with political opponents and local groups who have demanded action on poverty, unemployment and an end to police violence, Reuters reported.

Demonstrations initially began last week after the introduction of a tax reform plan that included a 19% sales tax on gasoline, as well as an effort to expand the country’s tax base by charging income taxes to people making $700 a month or more. 

The government said it needs the money to pay for healthcare improvements and to continue implementing a basic income scheme that started during the pandemic.

But the tax plan was rejected by most political parties – currently preparing for elections in 2021 – and also angered unions, student groups and small business leaders whose incomes have been affected by the pandemic. Protesters asked the government to raise corporate taxes and decrease military spending instead of taxing the middle class.

In response, Colombia's finance minister resigned on Monday and the tax reform proposal was withdrawn; however, clashes between protesters and police have continued for nine days. 

The government has also been criticized for the police response to the protests.  A spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said they were "deeply alarmed" at an incident this week "where police opened fire on demonstrators protesting against tax reforms, reportedly killing and injuring a number of people. "

According to the government human rights ombudsman office, 26 people have died during the confrontations, but seven were unrelated to the marches themselves, Reuters reported

At least 85 people have also been reported missing amid the national strike, and 306 civilians were injured during the protests. Police reported 540 injured officers.

   

According to the non-governmental organization Temblores, the figures could be higher; and they have reported cases of alleged sexual abuse by the police.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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