UN alarmed over police violence in Colombia protests

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People light candles during a vigil in honor of Nicolas Guerrero who died after being shot during a national strike against tax reform in Cali, Colombia, Monday, May 3, 2021. Guerrero was shot during clashes with police on Sunday and died this morning. Colombia’s President Ivan Duque withdrew the government-proposed tax reform on Sunday. (AP Photo/Andres Gonzalez)

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — The United Nations human rights office said it was “deeply alarmed” over violence against protesters in the Colombian city of Cali, where “police opened fire on demonstrators” and allegedly killed and injured several people Monday night.

The statement from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights comes as antigovernment protests sparked by proposed tax increase enter their sixth day and show few signs of stopping.

According to Colombia’s Human Rights Ombudsman, 16 protesters and one policeman have been killed in the demonstrations since last Wednesday. But that figure doesn’t include reports of deaths in Cali on Monday, which the U.N. said it is still trying to confirm. 

The protests began after Colombia’s government proposed a tax plan aimed at raising $6.7 billion to pay the country’s debts and maintain a basic income scheme for 3 million low-income people that started during the pandemic.

President Iván Duque withdrew the tax plan on Sunday amid the protests and his finance minister resigned the following day, but large demonstrations and roadblocks have continued. 

Numerous videos have emerged on social media showing police using excessive force during the protests and even shooting at some demonstrators point blank.

In its statement, the UN urged Colombia’s government to protect the rights of protesters. 

“Law enforcement officers should abide by the principles of legality, precaution and necessity of proportionality,” the statement said.

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