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In Colombia 17 died in pandemic-related protests

BOGOTÁ, Colombia – At least 17 people have been killed and hundreds injured after days of protests across Colombia, where tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets to demonstrate against a tax audit to fill a pandemic-related fiscal gap.

On Sunday, President Iván Duque announced that he would withdraw the proposal, and on Monday, the country’s finance minister said he would resign.

But the decisions have done little to quell public anger, and the protests have turned into a national uprising over rising poverty, unemployment and inequality triggered by the arrival of coronavirus last year.

Videos of police officers responding to demonstrators with violent force have exacerbated prolonged anger over police abuse.

“They have pushed us to starvation,” said Natalia Arévalo, 29, speaking in the streets of Bogotá. “And now they want to take the little we have left.”

On Monday, protests continued in several major cities.

At least 16 civilians and one police officer are dead, according to the national ombudsman.

The protests come just as the country is experiencing its deadly moment of the pandemic, and has in the last week had one of the highest deaths per capita. Populate the world according to a New York Times database that tracks deaths and infections.

Sergio Guzmán, Director of Colombia Risk Analysis, a consulting firm, said the government had waited too long to revoke the unpopular tax proposal so that anger and rage could grow up.

“Now it’s a lot more about the way the government has ruled the country for two and a half years, it’s about lockdowns, it’s about popular discontent,” he said. A lot of frustration had simmered over the past year in the midst of lockdowns, he added.

“The protests have allowed all of these things to resurface.”

Latin America and South America in particular have been hit hard by the virus, and many countries are facing dismal fiscal situations if reforms are not carried out. Across Latin America, economies fell an average of 7 percent last year, more than in any other region, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Sir. Duque was among the first in the region to try to tackle his country’s fiscal problems, Guzmán said.

But the public response does not bode well for other leaders. “This is one of those moments where there is a key breach in society,” he said. “And people are tired and wake up to the power of the streets.”

Sofía Villamil contributed with reporting.

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