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Police fire tear gas & water cannon as mass anti-govt protests in Colombia’s capital turn violent (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)

Hundreds of thousands took to the streets in cities across Colombia in a mass strike against the government of President Ivan Duque. While largely peaceful, clashes with riot police broke out as some of the protests dispersed.

Sparked by general dissatisfaction with government policies, including a recent proposal to cut pensions, some 207,000 Colombians joined the massive demonstrations on Thursday, according to Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutierrez.

With protesters chanting anti-Duque slogans and carrying bright banners and national flags, the marches mostly took place without incident. However, as the event in Bogota came to a close, people described as “hooligans” by some witnesses initiated confrontations with police, prompting them to respond with tear gas, water cannon and billy clubs. Some of the clashes were captured on video.

Riot police were also seen using tear gas on demonstrators outside of the Colombian legislature in Bogota’s Bolivar Square.

A demonstration in the city of Cali that drew over 20,000 protesters also ended in minor clashes near a local university, after which the city government declared a temporary curfew.

“More than 20,000 people have taken to the streets of Cali to support the [National Strike] peacefully,” Cali’s Mayor’s Office said in a tweet, but singled out “the few misfits who decided to [protest] violently.”

Some observers online have suggested the violent protesters were undercover“infiltrators” sent by the government stir up trouble and trigger a police crackdown, though so far little evidence has been offered to support that claim.

A sizable police presence was seen in the streets of some cities in the lead-up to the strike, including armor-clad riot officers and helicopters.

The protesters – who include students, union workers and indigenous groups – also demanded that minimum wages be held at their current level, and voiced anger over the slow rollout of a 2016 peace deal with leftist guerrilla group FARC, which has been at war with the Colombian government since the 1960s.

Since taking office in August, President Duque’s approval rating has steadily declined to its current level of 26 percent, while a poll in June showed 81 percent disapproval from younger Colombians aged 18 to 24, indicating his faltering support.

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