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At least 17 dead, according to ombudsman

Protests have shaken Colombia since Wednesday

The Colombian Ombudsman’s office has confirmed that at least 17 people have been killed in five days of protests against a tax reform plan.

At least 800 people were injured in clashes between police and protesters in major cities.

Human rights groups and protesters accused the riot police squads of using unnecessary force.

Reforms, which would have raised taxes for low- and middle-income groups, are now being shelved.

President Iván Duque announced on Sunday that the controversial measure would be withdrawn.

The casualty figures were made public by the Colombian Ombudsman’s Office, which used data provided by the police and the Attorney General’s office.

At least 17 dead, according to ombudsman

Counting of victims. [ 16 number of civilians killed ],[ 1 number of police officers killed ] , Source: Source: Office of the Colombian Ombudsman, Image: A person speaks to a policeman during a demonstration against the tax reform of the government of President Ivan Duque in Bogota, Colombia, May 1, 2021.

They confirm reports from human rights groups that have reported more than a dozen people killed during protests in major cities in Colombia.

Colombian ombudsman Carlos Camargo told Caracol radio that the number of people killed could be more than the 17 they have so far listed. He said his office had received reports of 20 deaths but had not yet been able to verify all the reports.

The Colombian Ombudsman’s Office is an official government agency responsible for overseeing the protection of the human and civil rights of citizens.

Among those injured in the clashes were hundreds of police, according to the mediator’s tally.

What were the protests about?

The protests began on Wednesday, when the biggest unions called a nationwide strike to oppose the now suspended tax reform.

The government argued that the reform was essential to alleviate the economic crisis in Colombia. Its gross domestic product (GDP) fell 6.8% last year, the worst crash in half a century, and the coronavirus pandemic has pushed its unemployment rate up further.

The proposed reform would have lowered the payroll tax threshold, affecting anyone with a monthly income of $ 656 (£ 470) or more. It would also have eliminated many of the exemptions currently enjoyed by individuals, as well as increased taxes imposed on businesses.

This sparked outrage among Colombians already battered by the pandemic and the protests were joined by many middle class people who feared the changes would see them slide into poverty.

How did they get out of hand?

Protesters took to the streets in defiance of a court ruling that the marches should be postponed due to a current spike in Covid-19 cases.

Police were deployed in force in major cities where members of unions, indigenous groups and civil society organizations converged in protest.

At least 17 dead, according to ombudsman

The protests were joined by members of various indigenous groups

Images shared on social media show police firing tear gas and clashes with protesters.

At least 17 dead, according to ombudsman

Police tried to disperse protesters with tear gas

The protests were particularly violent in Cali, Colombia’s third largest city, which has seen several days of street clashes between protesters and security forces.

Among those who died during the city’s protests, local media named Nicolás Guerrero, a 27-year-old artist. Cali mayor Jorge Iván Ospina said Guerrero died from a gunshot wound to the head.

“I condemn this and ask all police officers not to even think about using guns in these protests,” the mayor said.

Police say they have made more than 400 arrests across the country. They also said that across the country, 20 public transport buses were set on fire by protesters, 59 businesses were looted and more than 250 were vandalized.

What is the context?

This is not the first time that anti-government protests have turned to death in Colombia.

In 2019, there was outrage after teenage protester Dilan Cruz died after being hit by a police projectile in the head.

And in September last year, at least seven people were killed in protests sparked by the deadly attack on a man by police in the capital, Bogotá.

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