BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — President Juan Manuel Santos ordered troops onto the Colombian capital’s streets Friday after rioting in which at least two people died, and small farmers said they were lifting road blockades elsewhere after 11 days of protests.
Bogota was peaceful on Friday, with no disturbances reported as Santos ordered troops to reinforce police on the streets. No major military mobilization was noted, however.
The violence broke out Thursday afternoon after some 30,000 people, many of them university students, marched in support of the farmers, who have been blocking highways and staging protests over a variety of issues.
Santos opened talks with the farmers Tuesday and has promised to address their grievances, including erasing import tariffs on fertilizer. The farmers say cheap imports of potatoes, onions and milk are impoverishing them.
On Friday, Santos announced that he had asked government negotiators to return from talks with the farmers in neighboring Boyaca state, though he did not say why.
Four hours later, protest leaders said they would no longer block highways but would retain roadside pickets. They proposed resuming talks on Saturday but the government had no immediate response.
Interior Minister Fernando Carillo, one of the government negotiators, lamented Thursday’s “vandalism that had nothing to do with the farmers’ movement.”
Masked youths began hurling rocks and bricks and fought tear gas-firing riot police, and shattered store windows. Two men, aged 18 and 24, were killed by gunfire Thursday night in two towns just west of Bogota: Suba and Engativa.
The circumstances were not yet clear, said Alfonso Jaramillo, security chief for the capital, a city of 8 million.
The unrest comes amidt peace talks in Cuba between the government and Colombia’s main leftist rebel group to end a half-century-old conflict that largely affects remote provinces far from the capital.
Authorities said privately that they believed leftist extremists were involved in Thursday’s unrest in the capital and Santos suggested a link.
“There is no doubt there are people or groups who don’t want any accord to be reached” with the protesting farmers,” he said. “Such people, he said “only want to defend their political agenda or destabilize.”
Associated Press writer Frank Bajak contributed from Lima, Peru.