BOGOTA, Colombia (Reuters) – As protester deaths increased and demonstrations continued overnight, the United Nations and the European Union called for peace and cautioned against the use of excessive force during protests against Colombian President Ivan Duque’s government.
The demonstrations, which began as a response to a now-cancelled tax reform, have evolved into a wider call for action against poverty and what protesters and some advocacy groups claim is disproportionate police force.
The national police have announced that they will look into more than two dozen reports of abuse, while the defense minister has said that illegal armed groups are infiltrating the demonstrations to incite violence.
Cali, in the western part of the country, has become the epicenter of the demonstrations, with 11 of the 19 deaths reported by the Andean country’s human rights ombudsman.
“There will be no more blood in Cali,” said the city’s mayor, Jorge Ivan Ospina, in a tweet early Tuesday, adding that attempts are being made to avoid more deaths.
The government has withdrawn the tax reform opposed by demonstrators, which would have increased sales and income taxes, and Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla has resigned.
Duque has stated that his government would draught a new reform plan based on consultations with legislators, civil society, and businesses, and he has used his nightly television show to call for unity.
On Monday, Duque said, “What we most require today is that everyone, absolutely everyone, be united in some basic purposes.”
Duque has previously provided military assistance to secure infrastructure and ensure access to public services, despite the fact that mayors in cities such as Bogota and Medellin have said it is unnecessary.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has called for peace ahead of expected demonstrations and warned of police shootings.
Last year, demonstrations erupted in response to the death of a man in police custody, which resulted in the deaths of 13 people.