Tens of thousands have taken to the streets across Colombia in the biggest show of force from anti-government protests since agriculture workers went on strike last week. Violent clashes were reported, primarily from Bogota.
Protesters started arriving at the Plaza Bolivar in Bogota in the late morning, and by the early afternoon there were roughly 10,000 people assembled in the city’s main square. Caracol Radio, one of Colombia’s national media intensely following ongoing protests, reported that a total of 40,000 people were protesting around the city.
Despite a strong police presence, the protests remained calm for several hours, with speakers regularly encouraging peaceful demonstration.
However, at approximately 2:30PM, a new wave of protesters entered the Plaza, setting off non-lethal explosives, throwing debris and inciting general panic. This had been preceded by police attacking at least one group of demonstrators protesting peacefully while on their way to Bogota’s main square.
Speakers continued to urge the crowd to remain calm, but anti-riot police forces on hand got involved after a second round of explosives coming from within the protest, and from there the situation degenerated into chaos.
Se repiten, en pleno centro histórico de la capital, las escenas de brutalidad que vimos en las regiones. Tiene el Estado control del Esmad?
— Antonio Morales Rive (@amoralesan) August 29, 2013
Explosions that may have come from live ammunition fire from public security forces were heard.
Police hurdled tear gas into the main crowd, with various violent clashes breaking out across the plaza, and protesters hurling bricks and other objects at police forces.
Within 15 minutes, the square had been cleared, though clashes with the ESMAD continued in the streets surrounding the plaza. According to Bogota newspaper El Tiempo, 20 people were injured in the violent outbreak.
Major riots were also reported in Soacha, a mostly poor city bordering Bogota in the south. Dozens of masked men clashed with riot police, forcing local authorities to decree an instant curfew and ban on liquor sales. More than 40 people were arrested.
In Medellin, Colombia’s second largest city, a riot broke out in the downtown area ahead of the protest. According to the local authorities four suspected vandals were arrested. Most shops and supermarkets in the center of the city closed doors, fearing further disturbances.
Later in the day, sources told Colombia Reports that police released tear gas in the Parque de las Luces just after a student march comprised of an estimated 25,000 protesters arrived from the National University. The Alpujarra district, from which government personel had already been evacuated, is mostly clear, as protesters head back toward the university to demonstrate.
Violence was also reported on the outskirts of the city where thousands of rural protesters reportedly gathered and blocked roads leading to the capital of the Antioquia department, forcing clashes with riot police.
Cali newspaper El Pais reported that some 1,000 protesters took part in three peaceful marches through Colombia’s third largest city.
The protests were organized by Colombia’s largest student rights organization and coincided with widespread national anti-government protests that have been going on since Monday last week.