Forty-two people have died during anti-government protests that began two weeks ago amid discontent fueled by growing poverty and inequality in the country during the pandemic, Colombia’s Ombudsman said Tuesday.

The government human rights institution noted that 168 people have been reported missing during the demonstrations, which will continue on Wednesday. On May 5, the ombudsman asserted that 24 people had died during the demonstrations and 89 were missing.

The new figures from the Ombudsman’s Office are similar to those from Temblores, a non-governmental group that tracks police violence. Tremors said on Tuesday that 40 people had been killed during protests in incidents related to police violence, while one officer was stabbed to death while trying to end the unrest.

Colombia’s police have been accused of using excessive force to break up the demonstrations and riots that began on April 28, after the government announced a tax increase to reduce its deficit and raise resources for health care and social services.

The government withdrew its $ 6.7 billion tax plan on May 2 and the finance minister resigned the next day, but protests have continued across the country. The protesters are now demanding, among other things, a reform of the police, launching a basic income plan for 10 million people and completely free public higher education.

Colombia’s economy contracted 7% last year and millions of people lost their jobs due to restrictions related to the pandemic. This situation increased frustration towards the government, which did not heed the demands presented during the previous wave of protests in 2019.

On Monday night, the high commissioner for peace, Miguel Ceballos, said that the government of President Iván Duque was willing to talk with the leaders of the protests in order to negotiate some of their demands. Ceballos requested the mediation of the United Nations and the Catholic Church.

The leaders of the protests met with authorities on Monday and pointed out that the basic conditions for the negotiations had not been met, including security guarantees for the protesters.

The mobilizations take place at a time when coronavirus infections are reaching record levels in Colombia, where more than 78,000 people have died from COVID-19. In the last week, Colombia registers an average of more than 15,000 infections per day. The current contagion rate is five times higher than at the beginning of March.

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