Colombia's Duque optimistic about protests

Human Rights Watch has reports of 36 deaths since Colombia's protests began.
Human Rights Watch has reports of 36 deaths since Colombia's protests began.

Colombian President Ivan Duque has met political opponents and afterward he expressed more optimism than they did about progress made toward calming more than a week of widespread and sometimes deadly street protests.

"We had a productive meeting with the coalition of hope, a great opportunity for dialogue, overcoming differences and without political point-scoring," Duque said on Twitter on Friday.

But opposition attendees said Duque needed to do a lot of work to address demands for action on poverty, unemployment and ending police violence.

The group "entered talks with President Ivan Duque as opposition and we left as opposition", said Jorge Robledo, a senator for Colombia's Dignity party. "We laid out our points of view and he laid out his."

They urged Duque to meet civil society protest organisers. Peaceful marches took place in Bogota and Medellin, while road blocks across the country slowed food deliveries, causing some prices to rise.

Impeding supplies of food and other items, such as oxygen, was never justified, Duque said.

"Yes to conversation ... but no to road blocks," he told journalists. "They're not peaceful because they affect the rights of others."

The government is set to meet on Monday with the national strike committee - made up of unions and other groups.

Demonstrations began last week fuelled by outrage at a plan to raise sales taxes. That proposal was cancelled but protesters' demands now include a basic income and the withdrawal of a health reform that opponents say is too vague to correct inequalities.

The human rights ombudsman has reported 26 people killed since protests began, but says seven were unrelated to the marches themselves. Advocacy group Human Rights Watch has reports of 36 deaths.

Protest groups are sceptical of dialogue with Duque, saying similar talks accomplished little after 2019 demonstrations.

Australian Associated Press