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Hundreds join unions' car caravan protest in Bogota

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Hundreds of people joined a car caravan in Colombia’s capital, Bogota, on Monday to protest the economic and social policies of President Ivan Duque, as labor unions try to revive mass demonstrations amid continued coronavirus restrictions.

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The protest was the first called by the unions since the country finished more than five months of lockdown meant to stem the coronavirus, which has infected nearly 670,000 people and killed more than 21,400 in the Andean country.

Several weeks of large marches last November and December drew hundreds of thousands of protesters and led to isolated violence and the first curfews in major cities in a generation.

Masked protesters on Monday rode in cars and on motorcycles and bicycles decorated with green balloons and signs in a bid to comply with government restrictions on crowds.

“We have an extremely successful report, it has encouraged us to possibly organize another demonstration on September 21, another in October and commemorate last year’s march on November 21,” Diogenes Orjuela, head of the Central Union of Workers (CUT), told Reuters.

The participants honked horns to reject a recent government decree that allows pension and health contributions to be made based on hours worked, which the government says will recognize workers who earn less than minimum wage.

“It’s an absolute trick of the government, to take advantage of the crisis to carry out a reform,” Orjuela said.

He also voiced concern about a government loan of up to $370 million to airline Avianca and a recent spate of mass killings that the government has tied to drug violence.

The coronavirus quarantine has shuttered thousands of businesses and sent unemployment soaring to nearly 25% in urban areas.

Marchers last year demanded a laundry list of changes from the government, including protection for rights activists and better implementation of a peace deal.

The death of 18-year-old Dilan Cruz, hit by a riot-police projectile, became a rallying cry for many marchers.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Peter Cooney

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