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Death toll from Colombia protests rises to 42, says human rights investigator

·2-min read

At least 42 people have been killed in near-daily protests against the government of Colombian President Ivan Duque since April 28, the country's human rights ombudsman said Tuesday.

All but one -- a member of the armed forces -- were civilians, the ombudsman's office said.

The updated toll made these the bloodiest demonstrations since Colombia signed a peace agreement with the FARC guerilla group in 2016 to end decades of civil war.

It is lower than the 47 deaths reported by NGOs, who claim at least 39 were the direct result of "police violence".

The defence ministry has reported 849 police officers injured in clashes -- 12 by gunfire -- and has not updated the number of civilians wounded since May 3, when it stood at 306.

Student leader Jennifer Pedraza on Tuesday accused Duque's government of being "complacent about the excessive use of public force," and joined a call for fresh protests on Wednesday.

The protests, initially against a proposed tax reform, soon morphed into a broader demonstration of anti-government sentiment in a country battling ongoing violence and economic hardship made worse by the coronavirus epidemic.

The tax reform bill has since been withdrawn, but the protests have continued despite a forceful response criticized by the international community.

Two protesters who sustained critical injuries during clashes have died in hospital, their families and NGOs announced Tuesday.

On Twitter, Duque expressed sympathy after the death of Lucas Villa, 37, who was shot several times during a peaceful march in Pereira, western Colombia.

The president urged those responsible to face "the full weight of the law."

The other was 20-year-old Alejandro Zapata, who an NGO said was gravely injured by anti-riot police during a demonstration in Bogota.

The police on Monday announced that five officers had been suspended and another 62 were under investigation.

The United Nations, the European Union and the Organization of American States (OAS), including the United States, have denounced the excessive use of force by law enforcement agencies during demonstrations.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington will "continue to urge the utmost restraint by Colombian police in maintaining public order."

(AFP)

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