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Amid Protests, Colombia's Capital Placed Under Curfew

Colombians have rallied against their leader, President Iván Duque, in a major wave of protests. Duque is trying to get a grip on the unrest by announcing a "national dialogue," and the capital city, Bogotá, was put under curfew Friday night.

Major rallies started in Colombia on Thursday. As reporter John Otis tells NPR from Colombia, the demonstrators are "angry over a great big long list of issues."

"They think President Duque hasn't supported Colombia's peace treaty, which ended a long guerrilla war back in 2016. They also are calling for more protection for human rights workers, hundreds of whom have been targeted and killed by criminal gangs," Otis reported. "And they're also worried that the government is going to cut salaries and pension benefits."

Duque, a right-wing populist, was elected last year on a platform of changing the terms of the 2016 peace deal with guerrilla fighters. He's faced challenges since coming into office, though, and his approval rating is now hovering at around 26%, according to The Associated Press.

Late Friday, a truck bomb exploded near a police station in the province of Cauca, Otis reports. Thirteen policemen were rushed to the hospital, and officials said three of them died. It wasn't immediately clear who is responsible for the bombing or whether it is connected to the ongoing rallies.

The protests have been largely peaceful. Hundreds of thousands of people marched in the streets across the country on Thursday, according to the BBC. Protesters again gathered on Friday in a historic district of Bogotá — then police fired tear gas at the crowd.

"They kicked us out with tear gas," protester Rogelio Martinez told AP. "They didn't want the people to show their discontent."

There have been reports of looting. As Otis reports, criminals commandeered a bus and crashed it through the doors of a supermarket on Friday, and the shelves were cleaned out.

Officials said that during the demonstrations Thursday and Friday, 146 people were detained, according to AP. At least 151 security forces and 122 civilians were injured, "most of whom suffered minor injuries and tear gas inhalation."

Six people have been killed, Otis reports.

In televised remarks on Friday, Duque said that "from next week I will start a national conversation that will strengthen the current agenda of social policies." He said that some people were using the rallies to "sow chaos."

Demonstrations are picking up in Colombia at the same time as a wave of protests have swept across Latin America in Chile, Ecuador and Bolivia.

But as Otis notes, such demonstrations are considered unusual in Colombia. "These protests here have caught people a little bit by surprise, because Colombia has always been a very institution country," he says. "Despite guerrilla wars and cocaine, drug-related violence, there's been a lot of government stability and economic stability."

To put this in perspective, Friday night's curfew in Bogotá was the first of its kind there in 43 years.

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Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.