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Colombia protest leaders to suspend weekly demonstrations

BOGOTA, June 15 (Reuters) – Colombian protest leaders on Tuesday said their organizations would suspend anti-government demonstrations which have caused political and economic upheaval during the last six weeks, but warned their fight for solutions to a range of social and economic demands would continue.

Protests began at the end of April, sparked by opposition to a now-withdrawn tax reform, and later expanding to include demands for opportunities for young people and an end to police violence.

“We’ve decided to pause temporarily the recurring mobilizations that we have been doing on Wednesdays,” said union president Francisco Maltes, speaking on behalf of the national strike committee, an umbrella group of unions, student organizations and others.

“That doesn’t mean protest will stop in Colombia, protest in Colombia will continue because the reasons behind it are still there,” Maltes added.

Unions and business associations will meet to draft bills to share with Congress when it begins a new session on July 20, Maltes said, following what he characterized as the government’s refusal to address the issues.

“We hope that Congress, and lawmakers, do not fail Colombians like President Ivan Duque has,” Maltes said.

The government is committed to talks, it said in a statement, reiterating that road blocks across the country do not constitute peaceful protest.

Protests, while largely peaceful, have at times turned violent. The attorney general’s office has directly linked 24 deaths to the protests, and is verifying 11 more. Human rights groups say security forces have killed dozens of demonstrators.

Road blockades tied to demonstrations have prompted shortages of some basic goods and price increases, and the finance ministry says economic losses due to the protests total more than $3 billion.

The strike committee suspended talks with the government over a week ago, but protest leaders on Tuesday said they would restart discussions if it signs a pre-agreement which includes guarantees for peaceful protests.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta
Writing by Oliver Griffin
Editing by Alistair Bell

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.