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Nine dead in Colombian protests, citizens asked to stay home

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Police officers attempt to extinguish fire from a burning dumpster during a protest in Bogota, Colombia September 10, 2020. — Reuters pic
Police officers attempt to extinguish fire from a burning dumpster during a protest in Bogota, Colombia September 10, 2020. — Reuters pic

BOGOTA, Sept 11 — Nine people have died in Colombian capital Bogota and satellite city Soacha following violent overnight protests against police brutality, as city authorities called on residents to stay indoors yesterday evening.

The demonstrators were protesting the death this week of law student and father-of-two, Javier Ordonez, 46, in police custody. A widely-shared video filmed by Ordonez’s friend showed Ordonez being repeatedly shocked with a stun gun by police.

Some 175 civilians and 147 police officers have been injured in the protests, according to authorities in Bogota, while dozens of stations and public vehicles were damaged or set alight, the national government said.

Bogota’s mayor Claudia Lopez said people should return to their homes by evening, to ease tensions.

“Although there is no curfew in Bogota, we ask that by no later than seven o’clock, all those who can, please stay at home,” Lopez said in a Facebook Live broadcast.

Seven people aged between 17 and 27 years old were confirmed killed during the protests in Bogota, and another two in Soacha. The circumstances surrounding their deaths are being investigated, authorities said.

Over 60 people suffered gun-related injuries, the mayor’s office said. Lopez compared the unrest to the worst days of Colombia’s armed conflict.

The video of Ordonez shows him pinned to the ground by police officers and subjected to successive electric shocks as he begs, “please, no more.”

Police say Ordonez was found drinking alcohol in the street with friends, in violation of coronavirus distancing rules. He was taken to a police station in western Bogota where his family allege he suffered further abuse. He died later in hospital.

The two officers involved have been suspended pending an investigation, the government has said.

Ordonez’s family called for justice and peaceful protest.

“He was murdered by the police officers,” his former sister-in-law, Eliana Marcela Garzon, told Reuters. “We don’t want (deaths) in a country already full of conflict, we want justice.”

Police reform is needed, Garzon said, especially for the future of children like her now-fatherless nephews.

“I don’t want them to grow up feeling like there isn’t justice in this country,” she said. “I want them to grow up knowing laws are followed.”

Duque has said abuse of authority should not be tolerated, but the government called for Colombians not to “stigmatise” police officers and appealed for calm.

“What we are facing here is a mass act of vandalism and violence,” Defence Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo told journalists earlier yesterday.

Bogota’s police will be reinforced with 1,600 more officers, more than half of whom will come from other regions, and 300 soldiers, the defense ministry said.

An effort by labor unions earlier this week to revive mass protests seen last year against Duque’s economic and social policies garnered a tepid response amid ongoing coronavirus restrictions.

But Ordonez’s death could fuel renewed widespread outrage against the police, who were roundly criticised last year after a teenage protester was fatally injured by a riot squad projectile. — Reuters

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