Colombian President Ivan Duque has said the military will be sent to restore order in the city of Cali after weeks of violent anti-government protests.
Four people died in the country’s third-largest city on Friday night, the latest in a month of nationwide demonstrations which have claimed dozens of lives.
They began in April over a proposed tax increase which was later withdrawn, and later transformed into a general outcry against growing poverty, inequality and police violence.
In Cali, which has become an epicentre of the protests, the mayor, Jorge Ospina, confirmed three of the deaths, while local media reported the fourth occurred on the road between Cali and the town of Candelaria.
Speaking to reporters in Cali, Mr Duque said he was sending the ‘maximum deployment of military assistance’ to the police.
He said: ‘This deployment will almost triple our capacity throughout the province in less than 24 hours, ensuring assistance in nerve centres where we have seen acts of vandalism, violence and low-intensity urban terrorism.’
Demonstrations elsewhere were mostly peaceful, although clashes between police and protesters were reported in some areas, such as the municipality of Madrid, near Bogotá.
Despite the government and protest leaders reaching a ‘pre-agreement’ for ending demonstrations this week, strike organisers said the government had not signed the deal and accused it of stalling.
Francisco Maltes, president of the Central Union of Workers (CUT), accused the government of delaying talks.
He said: ‘We have already reached the agreement, the only thing missing is the president’s signature to start the negotiations.’
The government said it had not signed the deal because some protest leaders would not condemn road blocks, calling the issue non-negotiable, adding that talks will resume on Sunday.
Colombia’s finance ministry estimates protests and roadblocks have cost the country £1.9 billion, with the roadblocks leading to shortages of food and other supplies, boosting prices, and disrupting operations in the country’s main seaport as well as for hundreds of companies.