Colombian unions, students plan strike, marches; government warns against violence
By Julia Symmes Cobb
BOGOTA, Nov 21 (Reuters) - Colombian unions and student groups are planning a strike on Thursday, with marches to insist the government maintain minimum wages for young people and the universal right to a pension.
At a time of widespread unrest in other Latin American countries, police this week raided activists and a culture magazine ahead of the protest while Colombia's President Ivan Duque warned his government will not tolerate violence.
The president also has repeatedly denied that he plans to propose pension and tax reform laws containing the changes alleged by protesters. He said he immediately rejected the idea of reducing youth salaries when a think tank proposed it.
"No reform has been proposed," Duque told viewers during a rare Facebook Live broadcast this week, adding he does not want to raise the pension age. "It has been said that we want to pay young people less than the minimum wage. That's also a lie."
Other groups of marchers are expected to participate to protest what they say is a lack of government action to prevent the murder of hundreds of human rights activists, corruption at universities and other issues.
Supporters of the march, which include major unions, allege Duque's government also wants to make the public pension fund Colpensiones private and differentiate salaries by region.
Police raids late on Tuesday drew wide criticism on social media when staff at the Cartel Urbano magazine posted videos showing cops rifling through artwork while staff questioned the reason for the raid.
In Bogota, marchers are set to gather at seven meeting points before converging on the central Bolivar Plaza, home to congress and a block from the presidential palace.
Elsewhere in the region, Chile's conservative government is grappling with anti-austerity marches, the biggest crisis to hit the country since its return to democracy in 1990.
Protests in Bolivia over vote-tampering allegations led long-time leftist President Evo Morales to resign earlier this month, and his ouster has inflamed tensions in crisis-hit Nicaragua.
Duque this week authorized local authorities to adopt exceptional measures to contain protests if needed, including curfews and limits on carrying weapons and the sale of alcohol.
Marchers are also against an announced plan by the government to join state companies under a single holding umbrella, alleging that this will cost jobs and eliminate direct control over public funds.
The country's migration agency has shut land and river border crossings until early Friday morning because of the strike.
The agency said it has expelled 24 foreign nationals who were "affecting public order and national security."
(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by David Gregorio)
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