A demonstrator gestures during clashes with security forces during a protest against the tax reform of President Ivan Duque’s government in Bogota, Colombia, April 30, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

BOGOTA – At least 17 people died and more than 800 were wounded in clashes that broke out in Colombia during five days of protests against a proposed government tax reform, authorities said on Monday.

The Ombudsman’s Office said 16 civilians and one police officer died in violence during the protests that began throughout the country on April 28, while 846 people, including 306 civilians, were injured.

Authorities have detained 431 people while the government deployed the military in the worst affected cities.

Some NGOs accused the police of firing at civilians.

Defense Minister Diego Molano claimed the violence was “premeditated, organized, financed by FARC dissidents” and members of the ELN.

FARC — the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — leftist rebels signed a peace deal with the government in 2016 ending more than a half century of conflict, leaving the ELN — National Liberation Army — as the last recognized guerrilla group in the country.

Faced with the unrest, the government of President Ivan Duque on Sunday ordered the proposal be withdrawn from Congress where it was being debated.

Duque has hit out at protesters’ “vandalism” at a time when the country is battling a lethal second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite that, dozens of people were out on Monday in the capital Bogota and Medellin in the northwest, protesting and blocking roads.

Both cities are under nighttime curfews due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The tax reform had been heavily criticized for punishing the middle classes at a time of economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

The government introduced the bill on April 15 as a means of financing public spending.

The aim was to generate $6.3 billion between 2022 and 2031 to reignite the fourth largest economy in Latin America.

Hit by coronavirus restrictions, Colombia’s economy shrank by 6.8 percent in 2020, its worst performance in half a century.

Unemployment had reached 16.8 percent in March while 42.5 percent of the 50 million population now live in poverty.

AFP