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Large rallies in Colombia, violence fears

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A demonstrator shouts as the police disperse anti-government protesters at Bolivar square in downtown Bogota, Colombia, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019. Colombia's main union groups and student activists called for a strike to protest the economic policies of Colombian President Ivan Duque government and a long list of grievances. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

Colombians have taken to the streets to demonstrate against liberal economic policies and armed conflict amid government fears the country could join the violent protest wave sweeping Latin America.

Thousands of protesters were streaming into Bogota's central Bolivar Square on Thursday, while the surrounding streets were filled to the brim.

Demonstrators carried placards reading, "The people are greater than their leaders" and "President, resign".

The protests proceeded largely peacefully.

Clashes with police were reported in Suba near Bogota and in Cali, where seven police officers were injured, according to chief Oscar Atehortua.

Road blocks and acts of vandalism were reported in several places. Atehortua put the number of demonstrators nationwide at more than 130,000.

The marches and a general strike had been called by trade unions and groups representing students, farmers, women, indigenous people and people of African descent.

President Ivan Duque's conservative government feared Colombia could see violence similar to that in Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador, where dozens of people were killed in recent protests.

Duque on Wednesday evening addressed the nation to appeal for peace.

The government imposed heavy security measures, including the closure of borders and granting permission to governors and mayors to declare curfews.

Large numbers of soldiers have been deployed in Bogota.

The demonstrations opposed alleged government plans to raise the pension age and lower young people's minimum wage, though Duque has denied such intentions.

Protesters were also demanding more funding for education, the full implementation of the 2016 peace deal with guerrilla group FARC and stronger action to protect its former fighters and leaders, hundreds of whom have been killed by armed groups in recent years.

© DPA 2019