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Colombia: Tens of Thousands Protest IMF

Associated Press
June 8th, 2001

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 Bucaramanga.

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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