Vigilantes Fight Indigenous Group in Besieged Colombian City
(Bloomberg) -- Colombian President Ivan Duque flew to Cali in the middle of the night after violent chaos roiled the city as vigilantes clashed with anti-government protesters from indigenous ethnic groups.
Indigenous leaders said unidentified shooters in civilian clothes opened fire on buses on which they were traveling on a highway south of the city on Sunday, leaving at least ten people with gunshot wounds. There was also fighting in a wealthy neighborhood in the south of the city. Authorities are still investigating the events.
Duque said on Twitter that he held an emergency meeting with the mayor and security officials in the early hours to discuss a plan to restore order in the nation’s third-largest city. Anti-government protesters have been blockading the highways into Cali for nearly two weeks, causing shortages of gasoline and other basic goods, and hurting local businesses.
Cali residents opposed to the protests, and frustrated by the authorities’ failure to lift the road blocks, have begun taking matters into their own hands, confronting demonstrators and trying to remove the barriers themselves.
The government pledged to deploy 10,000 police and 2,100 troops to the region, to lift the blockades and restore order, the Defense Ministry said Monday.
Indigenous groups mainly from the mountainous Andean region south of Cali came into the city on May 2 to support the anti-government protests, said Yamir Adolfo Conejo, a delegate from the Totoroez indigenous community.
Indigenous people are organizing some of the blockades around the city, while truckers, groups of small farmers, students, Afro-Colombian communities, labor unionists and people from poor neighborhoods in Cali are manning others, Conejo said in a phone interview from the city.
The organizers will partially lift the barriers on Monday and Tuesday to allow food, gasoline and medical supplies to enter the city, he said.
Protests began across the nation last month over the government’s attempt to raise taxes to curb its ballooning fiscal deficit and fund welfare spending. But demonstrations have continued even after the unpopular plan was withdrawn.
Protesters including labor unions, truckers, teachers, taxi drivers, student groups and indigenous communities plan more marches over a range of other grievances, including police killings of protesters and a plan to reform the health system.
Duque is scheduled to meet some of the protest leaders Monday.
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