Colombia protests: President Duque imposes curfew in Bogota to shut down unrest

The president of Colombia has ordered a curfew in the nation’s capital amid unrest and protests after a massive anti-government march.

Ivan Duque said that he was invoking the measure to contain violent clashes that have erupted between protesters and Bogota’s police. Officers had repelled a large crowd of protesters in the city’s Plaza Bolivar on Friday in which demonstrators voiced their anger at the government by banging pots and pans.

The curfew, which will cover three districts in the city overnight, follows a march on Thursday in which an estimated 250,000 people demonstrated in Bogota, one of the largest protests in Colombian history. The march ended with skirmishes between police and protesters. Three people were killed in what authorities said were violent looting incidents. President Duque said the protesters were "taking advantage of the protest to sow chaos."

Enrique Peñalosa, Bogota’s mayor, confirmed that the curfew will cover the neighbourhoods of Bosa, Ciudad Bolivar and Kennedy: "From 9pm the curfew extends to the rest of the city. The curfews end at 6am on Saturday."

However, there were doubts about Colombian authorities’ control of the protests last night after hundreds of demonstrators defied the curfew and set up picket lines outside President Duque’s home in Bogota.

In addition, three officers were killed and seven other people were injured after a bomb attack on a police station in southwestern Colombia on Friday.

Jaime Asprilla, the city secretary of Santander de Quilichao, in the troubled region of Cauca, denied that attack was related to the protests in Bogota but said: "It was an attack on the police station with cylinders placed on a ramp that sadly leaves us three dead and seven wounded."

Mr Asprilla attributed the violence to armed groups. Dissidents of the former Farc guerrilla movement who rejected the 2016 peace agreement, as well as the country’s last rebel National Liberation Army (ELN), and gangs of drug traffickers are fighting for control of the region.

In a televised speech aimed at quelling the anger, President Duque had earlier called for a "national conversation" to stop the unrest.

"Starting next week, I will launch a national conversation to strengthen the current social policy agenda, working in a united way with medium- and long-term vision, which will allow us to close the social gaps." he said. "The space for dialogue exists."

Anger has erupted over Colombia’s long-simmering tensions about corruption, inequality and gang violence. 

President Duque was elected last year on a platform promising to change key aspects of a landmark 2016 peace accord with Farc, the leftist rebels, that polarised the country and which protesters are demanding he implement more forcefully. His approval ratings have fallen to 26 per cent in the first 15 months of his presidency.

Colombia’s economy has been growing this year, but the nation still has one of the highest levels of inequality in South America. Nearly 11 per cent of Colombians are unemployed, a figure that rises to 17.5 per cent for young adults.

Protesters demanded on Friday that Duque establishes a dialogue with indigenous, student and labour leaders to discuss labour and pension reform, among other issues before being thrown out of areas of the city as part of the curfew.

"They kicked us out with tear gas," said Rogelio Martinez, 38, a construction worker. "They didn’t want the people to show their discontent."

According to authorities, 146 people have been detained during the two days of unrest, with at least 151 police and military officers injured, as well as 122 civilians, most of whom suffered minor injuries.

Carlos Holmes Trujillo, the defence minister, said two individuals were killed in the port city of Buenaventura after police were attacked while responding to looting at a mall. A third died in Candelaria after police said a group looting a supermarket shot at officers.

Latin America is experiencing a tide of discontent, with large demonstrations in countries including Chile, Bolivia and Ecuador.

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