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Death toll rises to 10 in Colombia rioting over police killing

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Activists confront riot police during a protest called by feminist groups to denounce an alleged rape of a girl by a doctor in a private clinic and against police brutality in Bogota on September 10, 2020. (Photo by Juan BARRETO / AFP)

At least 11 people were killed and hundreds wounded after rioting broke out in the Colombian capital Bogota during protests over the death of a man repeatedly tasered by police, authorities said.

Demonstrators first took to the streets of the Colombian capital on Wednesday and again Thursday after video emerged of attorney Javier Ordonez pleading with uniformed officers, who shocked him with the weapon at least five times as he lay on the ground.

“We are facing a massive act of violence,” Defence Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said after several police stations were attacked and destroyed.

The minister said he would bolster law enforcement in the capital city of more than seven million by sending in hundreds of soldiers and military police officers.

Violent protests also spread to the cities of Medellin and Cali.

Bogota mayor Claudia Lopez said seven people had died in rioting in the capital, “the majority of them young people” who were shot.

Three more people died in the nearby town of Soacha, authorities said. And a woman died after being run over by a bus commandeered by a “vandal,” the defence ministry said.

The minister, Holmes Trujillo, denounced what he called “two days of systematic and coordinated vandalism.”

A total of 209 protesters were injured as were 194 police, officials said. Dozens of police cars and municipal vehicles were destroyed.

Fifty-eight of the wounded protesters suffered gunshot wounds, mayor Lopez said.

“There is solid evidence of the indiscriminate use of firearms by the police. What kind of training do they receive to have that absolutely disproportionate response to a protest?” she asked.

Ordonez, a 46-year-old lawyer and father of two, is heard repeatedly crying “please, no more” in the widely circulated footage of his arrest, taken by a friend.

He was taken to a police station and transferred to a local medical facility but died soon afterwards.

His family claim Ordonez was further assaulted after he was taken to the police station.

Right-wing President Ivan Duque promised an investigation would be carried out “with total rigour in order to have absolute certainty about the facts.”

However, he said he would refuse to “stigmatise” the police “and call them murderers” because of the actions of a few officers.

‘Sorrow’


Videos taken by protesters using smartphones and shared on social media show terrified demonstrators running from gunfire during Wednesday’s clashes.

One man in a crowd is heard shouting “he’s been hit, he’s been hit!” as another, with bloodstained clothes, is dragged away by friends.

The family of 23-year-old Frankpierre Charry said he was shot by police after he was caught up in the clashes in southern Bogota.

“The doctors say they shot him in the back, from very close range,” his mother Blanca Clavijo told AFP.

The bullet had “hit his stomach and damaged his intestines,” leaving him fighting for his life in hospital, she said.

The government said 56 police posts had been “vandalised” and 70 people arrested for “violence against public forces.”

The defence minister told a news conference that the officers who detained the victim had been immediately suspended.

The police claim they had responded to a complaint of public drunkenness and that Ordonez had assaulted them, necessitating the use of a taser.

“We express our sorrow for the death of Javier Ordonez and offer our solidarity with his family,” Trujillo said.

“The national government will continue to cooperate with the authorities so that the facts are established as soon as possible.”

Lopez, the city’s leftist mayor elected last October, said the case highlighted the need for “deep and serious restructuring within the police.”

She said 137 complaints of excessive use of force by the police had been made so far this year.

“There is a structural problem of cases of police abuse and, in addition, impunity,” Lopez said in a statement.

For many Colombians, the case evoked the killing in the US in May of African American George Floyd, also 46, who suffocated after being pinned by the neck to the road under the knee of a white officer.

Floyd’s plea that “I can’t breathe” has become emblematic of police brutality toward African-Americans, emblazoned on banners and T-shirts at protests that continue to roil the United States.

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