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Police Tactics Fuel Rage in Fifth Day of Colombia Protests

Matthew Bristow and Andrea Jaramillo

(Bloomberg) -- Colombian unions and student groups tried to keep up pressure on President Ivan Duque on Monday with a fifth day of anti-government demonstrations.

Tens of thousands massed in Bogota, after heavy-handed police tactics in recent days gave them an additional grievance. Schools closed early, and some banks and stores boarded up their windows in case of unrest.

A 18-year old protester entered a “critical and irreversible state” after being hit in the head on Nov. 23 by a projectile fired by anti-riot police, Semana magazine reported, citing hospital authorities.

Colombia is the latest Andean nation to face mass unrest, after protesters forced the governments of Ecuador and Chile to roll back austerity measures in recent weeks, and helped drive Bolivian President Evo Morales out of office. Colombian demonstrations have been motivated by a range of issues, including the government’s education and labor policies, unsolved murders of social leaders and corruption.

On Saturday, police fired tear gas to disperse peaceful protesters singing the national anthem in front of the central bank’s headquarters in downtown Bogota.

Violent tactics used by the police against peaceful marchers are galvanizing the protests, said Sol Parra, 26, who was taking part in a demonstration in Bogota’s Chapinero district on Sunday evening.

“If we have to stay here for one month, or two months, that’s what we’ll do,” she said.

Many residents of the capital are demonstrating in the evenings by leaning out of their windows to bang pots.

Troops are reinforcing the police in Bogota, after outbreaks of looting and vandalism on Nov. 22.

The peso weakened 0.3%, and the Colcap stock index fell along with the nation’s sovereign bonds.

Investors are fretting that the protests will weaken the government and make it harder to get a tax bill approved in congress this year, and reform the pension system in 2020, according to Carolina Monzon, an analyst at Banco Itau Colombia.

“This week is key in seeing how much traction the government gets in setting up a dialogue with protesters,” said Monzon. She forecasts the peso will weaken further if protests continue.

Duque held meetings with incoming mayors and governors who are set to take office in January, to start what he says is a “national dialogue”.

Talks with regional leaders, politicians and businesses, and which are planned through March 2020, will touch on points such as education, inequality, the fight against corruption and protection of the environment, Duque said.

(Updates condition of protester hit by police projectile, in 3rd paragraph)

To contact the reporters on this story: Matthew Bristow in Bogota at mbristow5@bloomberg.net;Andrea Jaramillo in Bogota at ajaramillo1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Daniel Cancel at dcancel@bloomberg.net, Matthew Bristow

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