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Colombia president calls troops to patrol capital

Vivian Sequera, Associated Press

Riot police stand in the capital's main square during clashing with students in downtown Bogota, Colombia, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013. Students are protesting in support of farmers who demand lower fertilizer prices, complain of being undercut by cheap imports from near and far of products including potatoes, onions and milk, and say their sector is being hurt by free trade and other agreements promoted by the government. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) -- Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos on Friday ordered troops to patrol the capital following rioting in which at least two people died.

Santos said that "to assure normality ... I have ordered the militarization of Bogota." The city was peaceful Friday, with no disturbances reported.

Santos did not say how many troops would be on the streets or for how long. More than 14,000 troops are stationed in the capital.

City officials said police would continue to be in charge of maintaining order, with no suspension of civil liberties. The city's Cabinet chief, Jorge Rojas, said Bogota remained "under civilian control."

Violence broke out Thursday afternoon after some 30,000 university students and others marched peacefully in support of a 10-day protest by small farmers.

Masked youths began hurling rocks and bricks and fought tear gas-firing riot police, shattering store windows. At least two people were killed in what became Bogota's worst street violence since March 2012, when protesets against the city's troubled municipal bus system were blighted by young vandals.

"We are not going to permit the excesses of a bunch of misfits to affect the tranquility of citizens." Santos said.

A former Bogota mayor, Jaime Castro, said the measure announced Friday didn't mean soldiers "could execute searches or anything of the sort." He noted that it had been used in the past after violence such as a 2003 rebel bombing at an elite social club that killed 36 people.

Two men, aged 18 and 24, were killed by gunfire Thursday night in two towns just west of Bogota: Suba and Engativa. The circumstances were not yet clear, said Alfonso Jaramillo, security chief for the capital, a city of 8 million.

In the city of Soacha bordering Bogota to the south, vandals attempted to sack supermarkets, clothing and hardware stores, Mayor Juan Carlos Nemocon told The Associated Press.

The president also said 50,000 military personnel would help police along highways that small farmers and truckers demanding lower fertilizer and gas prices have intermittently blockaded.

Santos also said Air Force planes and guarded convoys would be available to ferry supplies to any cities affected by shortages because of the blockades.

Thursday's clashes occurred just hours after Santos acknowledged in a nationwide TV address that "a storm" is battering Colombia's agricultural sector and promised remedies.

He opened talks with the protesting farmers Tuesday and on Thursday promised them remedies, including erasing import tariffs on fertilizer.

The unrest comes in the midst of peace talks in Cuba between the government and Colombia's main leftist rebel group to end a half-century-old conflict that largely affects remote provinces far from the capital.

Authorities said privately that they believed leftist extremists were involved in Thursday's unrest in the capital and Santos suggested a link.

"There is no doubt there are people or groups who don't want any accord to be reached" with the protesting farmers," he said. "Such people, he said "only want to defend their political agenda or destabilize."


Associated Press writer Frank Bajak contributed from Lima, Peru.