Colombia strikes to go ahead without marches to avoid coronavirus

BOGOTA (Reuters) – Unions and student groups in Colombia on Friday said a strike planned for March 25 to protest against the social and economic policies of President Ivan Duque will go ahead but they canceled public marches to avoid the spread of the coronavirus.

The planned strike would be the first one this year after a series of protests and three strikes in the final two months of 2019.

“The strike on March 25 is going ahead. However, we are asking Colombians not to leave their houses as there will be no transport. We will hold cacerolazos from houses every two hours, from eight in the morning until eight at night,” Diogenes Orjuela, head of the Central Union of Workers (CUT), told Reuters.

Cacerolazos are traditional Latin American protests in which demonstrators bang pots and pans.

“We will hoist Colombian flags decorated with black tape to condemn the killings and violence. The strike will last 24 hours and we are not going to break protocols because safety is paramount,” Orjuela said, referring to the health emergency declared by the government to try to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Colombia’s government on Thursday suspended public events involving more than 500 people to combat the coronavirus. Health authorities have reported the infection of 16 people in the Andean country.

Talks between the government and protest organizers have not been successful in reaching an agreement that would satisfy the protesters.

The protest leaders initially presented 13 demands across a wide range of economic and social issues, including measures to halt the killings of social activists, pressure Duque to properly implement the 2016 peace agreement with the demobilized FARC guerrillas and to demand the dissolution of the anti-riot police unit that has been accused of using excessive force.

In December, the protest leaders widened the number of demands to 104. The government said many of the demands, which involve economic, fiscal, environmental and business themes, were unconstitutional.

The demonstrations were largely peaceful but there was some looting of shops and attacks by hooded protesters against public transport and buses. Authorities at the time imposed curfews in the cities of Bogota and Cali.

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