Two protesters have been killed in the Colombian city of Cali as they guarded one of several roadblocks set up by demonstrators to show their discontent with growing poverty and inequality during the pandemic.
The deaths come as Colombia’s federal government sends hundreds of troops to restore order in the southwestern city, where clashes between protesters and civilians who oppose anti-government demonstrations and roadblocks resulted in at least five deaths last week.
Municipal officials in Cali said the two men murdered early on Tuesday morning were shot at by a gunman who fled on a motorcycle and still has not been captured.
Meanwhile, officials are meeting youth who have been staging roadblocks around the city for the past month.
“We reject painful actions like these which come as we are about to start negotiations,” said Danis Renteria, the city’s secretary for peace and tolerance.
Cali’s mayor last week said 13 people were killed on Friday amid protests that included the looting of an office building, and clashes in which civilians with firearms shot at protesters who were trying to take over a police station in a wealthy neighbourhood.
The situation prompted President Ivan Duque to visit the city of two million, and send 1100 troops at the weekend to restore order and guard roads leading into Cali that have been blocked by protesters recently.
On Sunday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, called for those who committed crimes on Friday to be held accountable.
According to Colombia’s Human Rights Ombudsman, at least 42 people have been killed in the protests, which started on April 28 over a tax plan the government has since removed.
In Cali, where much of the violence has taken place, protests were marked at first by cases of police abuse, but have also been affected recently by clashes between civilians who favour and oppose the protests.
In the capital of Bogota protest leaders have met government officials to discuss conditions under which both sides could start to negotiate changes to social and economic policies.