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Women march in Colombia against police sexual violence

COLOMBIAN women marched against sexual assault by the police today as the uprising against President Ivan Duque’s neoliberal government continued.

“Our bodies are not battlefields — we demand justice for the 16 women who were raped by agents of the Anti-Riot Mobile Squadron during the protests,” the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom declared.

One underage girl raped by police was so traumatised she killed herself on Tuesday, it added. She was seized and raped by four officers when returning from a protest in Popayan, activists charge.

“Sexual violence is a weapon against protesters. Today we are mourning the death of a teenage girl. We must continue an indefinite national strike until President Ivan Duque resigns,” a statement from the country’s Socialist Workers Party said. It called for sit-ins in front of the police stations in Popayan, Cali and Bogota.

In Cali, the site of some of the worst police violence during a crackdown that has killed scores, talks between local authorities, national government representatives and the protest-co-ordinating National Strike Committee broke down on Thursday.

Protest leaders said they had told Mayor Jorge Ivan Ospina: “Mayor, [the police] are attacking us — please regain control of your city!”

However, the mayor — while acknowledging that 45 people had been killed and hundreds injured in the city during the current protests — sought to downplay the violence as normal.

“Cali always has violent deaths, Cali is not a city where violent deaths do not occur,” he said.

Thursday also saw the country’s Foreign Minister Claudia Blum resign as protests entered their third week.

She is the second senior minister to quit, following the resignation of the finance minister Alberto Carrasquilla on April 28. Mr Carrasquilla was the author of a tax-rise package that sparked the anti-government demonstrations. Though that has been withdrawn, protesters are now demanding a wider reversal of neoliberal policy, including by introducing free university tuition and higher pensions.

Ms Blum was reportedly behind a widely condemned video released which blamed the protests on “violent leftists” and “narco-terrorists” allegedly being controlled by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

A communique from the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry retorted that the protests were a home-grown movement “against the inequalities fuelled by neoliberalism.”

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