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Anti-Government Demonstrations Continue In Colombia


The latest country shaken by anti-government demonstrations is Colombia. Days of protests have been serious enough that President Ivan Duque says he will meet the protesters today. Reporter John Otis has more.



JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: These protesters are shouting, "long live the national strike." That's what they're calling demonstrations that broke out last week and show no sign of letting up.


OTIS: Cacerolazos, or banging on pots and pans, is a distinctly Latin American form of protesting. People here are angry about everything from rising violence in the countryside to the high cost of education to rumors that the government plans to cut pension benefits.

ALEJANDRO GIRALDO: This has to stop. It cannot continue because this is not what we are living for. We need a better government. We need a - better standards of life. We need a better society. And that's what we are fighting for.

OTIS: Alejandro Giraldo (ph) is a 28-year-old lawyer. Young Colombians like himself, rather than longtime activists, form the bulk of the protests.

GIRALDO: There is a change right now. And all the young people is gathering around some places, and they are connecting with each other to take this country to a better level or to a better quality of life.


OTIS: The marches come amid a wave of often violent demonstrations around South America. In Bolivia, they helped force out President Evo Morales after fraud-marred elections. In Chile, they prompted the government to consider writing a whole new constitution. The marches in Colombia have been mostly peaceful, but an outbreak of looting and vandalism has led to a security crackdown and allegations of police brutality. That, in turn, has prompted more people to march. Among them is Christian Urrego (ph).

CHRISTIAN URREGO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: "They hit him in the head with a tear gas canister," he says, talking about a high school senior who was gravely injured while protesting on Saturday against the high cost of college tuition. The student died Monday night.

URREGO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: "If we're protesting about education, why do they respond with violence?" Urrego says. After initially resisting, officials of President Duque's conservative government have agreed to meet with protest leaders starting today.


MARTA LUCIA RAMIREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: At a news conference, Vice President Marta Lucia Ramirez said, "all Colombians should know that this is a government that will always listen to you."

For NPR News, I'm John Otis in Bogota, Colombia.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRISTAN DE LIEGE'S "WOODEN LINES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.