Colombia union rejects government call to halt strike, insists on dialogue

BOGOTA (Reuters) – A major Colombian union that is backing a third national strike in as many weeks against the social and economic policies of President Ivan Duque on Tuesday rejected a request to call off the protest and demanded a direct dialogue with the government.

Hundreds of thousands of Colombians have participated in protests over the past two weeks, imperiling the government’s tax reform proposal and leading Duque to announce a “great national dialogue” on social issues.

On Monday the government asked the unions and student groups that make up the National Strike Committee to call off the Wednesday protest and agreed to a parallel dialogue with them.

But the head of the Central Union of Workers (CUT) was unmoved by the request.

“The strike will not be reversed. We don’t agree with the conditions the government is proposing, but we are willing to dialogue and make all the explorations possible,” Diogenes Orjuela told Reuters by telephone.

“We are not going to suspend the strike. The order to strike tomorrow Wednesday, December 4, is maintained,” Orjuela said before participating in a meeting between the committee and the government.

The CUT is the country’s main union, with more than 500,000 members.

The committee has made 13 demands of the government, including that it reject a rise in the pension age and a cut in the minimum wage for young people, both policies Duque denies ever supporting.

The committee, which called the original strike on Nov. 21, has demanded the government meet only with them, instead of including business groups and others in talks.

“We have been clear we are seeking a direct dialogue, separate from President Duque’s Great National Dialogue, but without conditions on our plan of action which we have through December 10,” Orjuela said.

The Tuesday meeting is not a bilateral discussion, presidency official Diego Molano told local Blu Radio, but instead runs parallel to the wider talks.

“They have asked for an exclusive dialogue with them and not other sectors, but President Duque has been absolutely unequivocal. We cannot resolve the problems of Colombia and its issues with just the strike committee,” he said.

Five people have died in connection with the demonstrations, including a young man killed by homemade explosives on Monday in the city of Medellin, during a protest at a public university.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Additional reporting and writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Steve Orlofsky

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