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Thousands protest as Colombia gov’t submits new tax reform plan

BOGOTA: Thousands of Colombians returned to the streets on Tuesday to protest against the government of President Ivan Duque, which presented a new tax reform plan to Congress.

The tax reform sparked massive protests across the country in April, killing more than 60 people and facing allegations of excessive use of force by the government.

Protesters in several cities celebrated Colombia’s Independence Day, demanding police reform and more government support in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which raised poverty rates from 37% to 42% in a country of 50 million people.

“I hope that, finally, Congress will begin to pass laws in the interests of all Colombians, not just the group of people who are getting rich,” said Ivan Zapata, a 46-year-old dentist protesting in Bogotá. AFP

Clashes between riot police and demonstrators, some of whom were armed with machetes, injured dozens of civilians in the cities of Medellin and Cali and injured 20 police officers, officials said. The government described the protests as mostly peaceful.

The demonstrations were convened by the influential National Strike Committee, which includes, among others, indigenous peoples, labor unions and students.

The group suspended its protests on June 15, but promised to resume them on the country’s independence day in an effort to bring the demonstrators’ demands to Congress.

“We are fighting to recognize our rights to health, education and non-violence,” said Noelia Castro, a 30-year-old teacher from the capital.

On Tuesday, the government presented to Congress a new tax reform plan that did not include the controversial provisions that caused such a fuss three months ago.

Gone are the increase in value added tax on some goods and the expansion of the base for the payment of income tax.

Instead, the new plan removes certain tax breaks imposed by Duque himself in 2019, increases corporate income tax and adds a 3% surcharge to the financial sector.

The plan aims to raise $ 3.9 billion (RM16.5 billion), far less than the $ 6.3 billion (RM26.7 billion) the government hoped to raise as part of its previous plan that would hit the middle class hard. …

“We listen to voices in the streets and they should foster debate, but history is meant to be the speakers of a country in transformation,” Duque said at the Congress ceremony, which was pushed back several hours. to avoid clashes with protesters.

Police reform also had to be on the legislature’s agenda.

The government previously announced two projects aimed at changing the police promotion system and its disciplinary rules.

However, the protesters demanded broader reforms, including the dissolution of the riot control unit and the removal of this institution from the responsibility of the Ministry of Defense.

Colombia will host legislative elections in March and presidential elections in May 2022. AFP

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