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Tue May 11, 2021, 12:32 AM

Violence in Colombia protests escalates amid allegations of police excess

Relatives and friends of Nicolas Guerrero, who was killed during clashes with riot police at a protest over a tax proposal, attend a vigil in his honor in Cali, Colombia, on May 3. (Luis Robayo/AFP/Getty Images)

By Steven Grattan and
Anthony Faiola

May 4, 2021 at 5:04 p.m. CDT

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Hundreds of protesters had gathered in the southwestern Colombian city of Cali late Monday, pushing for economic justice on the sixth day of anti-government demonstrations. Then, Ana Maria Burgos said, police suddenly opened fire, moving in on the crowd with riot shields and batons.

The 43-year-old teacher said she saw blood pouring from the heads of protesters.
“The gunfire was indiscriminate,” said Burgos, who had volunteered as a human rights observer during the protests. “They beat us and threw people to the ground. I heard bullets being fired wherever I went.”

. . .

Colombia’s human rights ombudsman has identified 18 civilians and one police officer killed and 87 missing in the first five days of protests but has yet to release figures from Monday’s rash of violence, which some in Colombia are describing as a “massacre.” Human Rights Watch said it had confirmed seven deaths since the protests began April 28 and is in the midst of verifying 18 others, including five in Cali on Monday night.

. . .

The scope of the ongoing protests is difficult to gauge. If they receive the kind of broad-based, middle-class support seen in September — when the police slaying of a taxi driver spurred nationwide protests and a debate over police violence — analysts say the demonstrations could continue for days, weeks or longer.

Hundreds of videos with accounts of police misconduct are flooding Colombian social media. One appears to show a young man being shot at close range. Another shows bystanders being rounded up into police trucks. A video recorded in the western city of Manizales purports to show police gassing a bus filled with people.

. . .

“They were even firing shots from helicopters,” said Stiven Soñador, a 27-year-old human rights lawyer who took part in the protests. “Police started to fire shots and people ran to their neighborhoods, but inside the neighborhoods, there were more [police] waiting.”


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