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Colombia protests see at least 24 dead after 1 week

colombia-protests-see-at-least-24-dead-after-1-week

Colombia entered its eighth day of protests Thursday, with police employing severe crowd-control methods and drawing criticism from the international community as deaths and arrests pile up. 

It’s currently estimated that at least 24 people have died, with some estimates closer to 30 deaths overall, including both civilians and police officers. Human rights groups have also claimed that at least 800 people have been injured in the confrontations.

But what has caused this escalation?

The protests started over a week ago in response to President Ivan Duque’s tax reform plan, which the government insisted was “vital” to stabilize Colombia’s finances. 

A protester clashes with the police during an anti-government protest in Bogota, Colombia, Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The protests that began last week over a tax reform proposal continue despite President Ivan Duque's withdrawal of the tax plan on Sunday, May 2. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

A protester clashes with the police during an anti-government protest in Bogota, Colombia, Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The protests that began last week over a tax reform proposal continue despite President Ivan Duque’s withdrawal of the tax plan on Sunday, May 2. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

The plan included new or expanded taxes on citizens and business owners, as well as the leveling of sales tax on utilities and some food, according to Al Jazeera

Working-class Colombians immediately rejected the reforms as too much for a people already struggling under the downturn caused by coronavirus lockdowns. The plan also reduced or outright removed some tax exemptions for businesses, such as those on product sales.

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Trade unions called for a national strike in response to the law, leading to widespread protests. In the face of opposition from the people, as well as from some members within his own party, Duque asked his Congress to “withdraw the law” and “urgently process a new law,” according to reports.

Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla then submitted his resignation on Monday evening following a day of meetings with Duque. 

An anti-government demonstrator in skates jumps over a fire during a protest in Bogota, Colombia, Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The protests that began last week over a tax reform proposal continue despite President Ivan Duque's withdrawal of the tax plan on Sunday, May 2.  (AP Photo/Ivan Valencia)

An anti-government demonstrator in skates jumps over a fire during a protest in Bogota, Colombia, Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The protests that began last week over a tax reform proposal continue despite President Ivan Duque’s withdrawal of the tax plan on Sunday, May 2.  (AP Photo/Ivan Valencia)

Carrasquilla told Reuters that his resignation was necessary in order for the government to receive a “quick and defective construction of the necessary consensus.” 

The protests, however, had already started to get out of hand: Courts ordered them postponed, citing COVID-19 concerns as cases spiked in the country.

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Police attempted to disperse the protesters, deploying tear gas and trying to forcefully break up the crowds, the BBC reported. Police reportedly made more than 400 arrests nationwide, claiming that protestors set 20 busses on fire, looted dozens of businesses and vandalized hundreds more. 

The violent clashes soon led to deaths, with six people dying within the first few days of protests; that number had risen to at least 17 dead after a week – 16 civilians and one police officer, according to Reuters. That number continued to climb, with some estimates saying as many as 30 people have died. 

Police detain a demonstrator during an anti-government protest in Bogota, Colombia, Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The protests that began last week over a tax reform proposal continue despite President Ivan Duque's withdrawal of the tax plan on Sunday, May 2. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

Police detain a demonstrator during an anti-government protest in Bogota, Colombia, Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The protests that began last week over a tax reform proposal continue despite President Ivan Duque’s withdrawal of the tax plan on Sunday, May 2. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

The protesters have since pivoted their focus from protesting the tax reforms to protesting the “unnecessary” reaction by the police. 

Protestors have demanded that the state disband the Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios (ESMAD) riot police, which Duque has regularly utilized to repress any large protests or demonstrations against his administration. 

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Public approval of the police plummeted to 48% last year after seeing highs over 70% just 20 years ago, according to The Washington Post

The force has seen more than 1,400 officers dismissed and at least one commander resign in recent years, following a series of human rights and corruption allegations, according to reports.

The most recent night or protests saw more than two dozen police stations in Bogota attacked, with at least three outright destroyed. 

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Mayors from the various major cities have expressed shock at the actions, with Bogota Mayor Claudia Lopez calling the violence “unbelievable.” 

Written by What is Find

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