BOGOTA, Colombia -- Tens of thousands of
teachers, state workers, and students have protested
budget reforms mandated in agreements between Colombia
and the International Monetary Fund.
Marches in the capital and most major cities Thursday
were largely peaceful. However, hooded youths bashed
in windows at some businesses in Bogota and police and
demonstrators were injured when riot police cleared a
blocked highway in the northeastern city of
The demonstrators oppose a law moving through
Colombia's congress that would control the growth of
federal outlays to states and municipalities. The law
appears near final passage, after which it must be
signed by President Andres Pastrana.
About 300,000 teachers and 125,000 public health
workers have been on strike or participating in work
slowdowns since last month to protest the measure,
being enacted as part of deficit-cutting agreed to in
return for loans from the IMF.
The government has tried to provide assurances that
the reforms will only cut government waste, without
affecting jobs or services. It projects government
savings of $4 billion over the next seven years.
On Thursday, police stationed riot units and armored
vehicles with water cannons around the capital, and
dispatched helicopters over the city to deter
violence. Bogota banned liquor sales indefinitely and
the carrying of weapons until Monday.
Highways were blocked in at least three states,
including Norte de Santander, Cauca and Valle.
Gloria Ramirez, the president of the Colombian
Federation of Teachers, said the protests were not
only against the controversial budget cuts but the
entire ''neoliberal model'' she said was being imposed
on the country from abroad.
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