Colombians gathered for renewed protests on Friday and sporadic looting erupted 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 rumoured 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 Bogota’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 rebels that killed eight teenagers and led the former defence minister to resign.
The crowd, which included the elderly and families, was abruptly dispersed by police firing tear gas, sending protesters running up the steep, narrow streets of the historic district.
Some protesters regrouped at nearby intersections and continued chanting.
Meanwhile, Bogota’s mayor, who earlier banned alcohol sales, said there would be a curfew in the Bosa, Kennedy and Ciudad Bolivar neighbourhoods from 8 p.m.
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 Ecuador and in crisis-hit Nicaragua.
The three deaths in Valle del Cauca province were being investigated, Defence Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo told journalists earlier on Friday.
He said authorities had confirmed the death of two people in Buenaventura and one more in Candelaria, adding that a group of people had tried 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. Many 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 looted and some protesters stole a public bus, according to local media.
Friday’s protest was not supported by one union that helped lead Thursday’s marches, whose head warned against political “opportunism” associated with the marches.
The head of the Central Workers Union said his group would participate in the Friday protest.