BOGOTA, Colombia - Tens of thousands of teachers, state
workers, and students have protested budget reforms mandated in
agreements between Colombia and the International Monetary Fund.
Marches in the capital and most major cities Thursday were
largely peaceful. However, hooded youths bashed in windows at some
businesses in Bogota and police and demonstrators were injured when
riot police cleared a blocked highway in the northeastern city of
Students march through the streets of Medellin, Colombia's second largest city, carrying a banner reading "Yankees get out of Colombia and the rest of the world" during a protest, Thursday, June 7, 2001. Students joined hundreds of thousands of state workers across the country that went on strike to protest President Andres Pastrana's government economic policies. Photo by Leon Monsalve (AP)
The demonstrators oppose a law moving through Colombia's
congress that would control the growth of federal outlays to states
and municipalities. The law appears near final passage, after which
it must be signed by President Andres Pastrana.
About 300,000 teachers and 125,000 public health workers have
been on strike or participating in work slowdowns since last month
to protest the measure, being enacted as part of deficit-cutting
agreed to in return for loans from the IMF.
The government has tried to provide assurances that the reforms
will only cut government waste, without affecting jobs or services.
It projects government savings of $4 billion over the next seven
On Thursday, police stationed riot units and armored vehicles
with water cannons around the capital, and dispatched helicopters
over the city to deter violence. Bogota banned liquor sales
indefinitely and the carrying of weapons until Monday.
Highways were blocked in at least three states, including Norte
de Santander, Cauca and Valle.
Gloria Ramirez, the president of the Colombian Federation of
Teachers, said the protests were not only against the controversial
budget cuts but the entire ``neoliberal model'' she said was being
imposed on the country from abroad.
Copyright 2001 Associated Press