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Cali is the cockpit of chaos as Colombia protests threaten to spiral out of control | Colombia

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On a recent evening, Andrés pulled on his gas mask and helmet and headed for the barricades at the entrance to his rundown neighbourhood in Cali, a city which has become the center of Colombia’s anti-government protests.

But as he approached the roadblock of rocks, rubble and barbed wire, he saw a motorcycle speeding towards him. In an attempt to turn the vehicle back, another demonstrator shone a laser pen in the driver’s eyes.

Others screamed “the way is closed”, but still the bike wove past burning piles of rubbish towards the protesters.

Then, the masked pillion rider drew a handgun and opened fire.

“No one was hurt, thank God,” said Andrés, in the neighbourhood known as Puerto Resistencia. “But others will come.”

Cali is the focus of a nationwide wave of demonstrations against poverty and inequality exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

But a string of incidents in which men in civilian clothing have brandished assault rifles and opened fire on protesters has prompted fears that the country – which is only just clawing its way out of war – is heading for broader conflict.

In the last 24 hours, indigenous protesters blocking roads have been shot at by assailants, fresh skirmishes have erupted between demonstrators and riot police, and residents have been trapped in their homes by clashes on the streets.

On Monday, Lucas Villa, a 37-year-old protestor in the city of Periera, was declared brain dead after being shot eight times by men in civilian clothing last week. Hours before the attack he had been filmed dancing at a march. On Monday, two police officers were arrested in connection with the death of Santiago Murillo, a 19-year-old protester who was killed on May 1 in Ibagué, a central city.

“Armed civilians fighting against each other is one of the most serious manifestations of the crisis so far,” said Katherine Aguirre, a security expert at the Igarape Institute in Cali. “The state needs to find innovative ways to solve the crisis, both maintaining public order while pursuing dialogue at the local level.”

CA demonstrator holds a makeshift shield near a barricade blocking the Panamerican highway in Cali, Colombia, on Monday.
CA demonstrator holds a makeshift shield near a barricade blocking the Panamerican highway in Cali, Colombia, on Monday. Photograph: Luis Robayo/AFP/Getty Images

On Sunday night, Colombia’s president, Iván Duque, announced that more soldiers and police officers would be dispatched to the city to lift blockades. Chillingly, he also instructed indigenous protesters to “return to their reservations” in order to “avoid violent confrontations with citizens”.

The demonstrations, which began with a general strike on 28 April, quickly descended into violence after a heavy-handed response by riot squads from the militarized police force.

According to Temblores and Indepaz, two local watchdogs, 47 people have died during the unrest, with 35 deaths in Cali. But protesters in the city show no sign of backing down.

“We’ve been forgotten forever.” said Carmen Rosa Bejarano, 38, who has lived in Puerto Resistencia for her most of her life. “If they want us to back down, they’ll have to come here and ask – and if they come in shooting first, they won’t stand a chance.”

On Sunday night, tensions at the barricade were high. Lookouts a few blocks away reported that Esmad, Colombia’s feared riot police, were on the way.

“We are children of war,” said Carlos, another frontline protester, as he picked up a shield cut out of an oil drum. “We’re ready to fight.”

Drivers and motorcyclists wait their turn to fill up at a gas station in Cali.
Drivers and motorcyclists wait their turn to fill up at a gas station in Cali. Photograph: Andres Gonzalez/AP

Elsewhere in the city, streets that would usually be bustling were empty; the dance halls of the world’s salsa capital were boarded up.

Among the few signs of life were the endless queues for fuel, which has been desperately scarce since the protests began.

Álvaro Pérez, who runs a small logistics business, had been waiting for six hours in a queue that snaked around the neighbourhood, and was losing patience.

“We need to go back to work, to be able to move around freely” he said. “I supported the protests at the beginning – most of us did – but this is never-ending now.”

Earlier on Sunday, a blockade set up by indigenous protesters outside the wealthy Ciudad Jardín neighbourhood was attacked by men in civilian clothes. Disturbing videos appear to show members of the police allowing the gunmen through. Other clips show vigilantes wielding handguns and assault rifles in broad daylight.

Members of the LGBT community march in support of the national strike in Cali on Sunday.
Members of the LGBT community march in support of the national strike in Cali on Sunday. Photograph: Pablo Rodriguez/EPA

“It’s unacceptable that the authorities have not immediately heeded the urgent calls on them to prevent armed violence,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

The violence has been especially dispiriting for those who hoped for a peaceful future for Colombia when the country signed a historic deal with rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) in 2016.

That deal ended five decades of civil war and also raised hopes that new political spaces would finally open in a country where leftwing politicians and activists are routinely accused of collaborating with rebel groups.

Instead, the government has smeared protesters as “vandals” and “terrorists”, and the claims have been echoed by rightwing US politicians such as Marco Rubio.

Out on the streets, such rhetoric has only raised tensions. “The police or their hitmen will attack and we’ll push them back,” said Andrés, between updates on his walkie-talkie from the lookouts. “We’re ready.”



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MEPs join EU citizens on farm-animal cage ban

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The European Parliament has lent political weight to an EU citizens’ petition to end farming of caged animals and force-feeding of ducks and geese to make fois gras pâté, putting pressure on the European Commission to table legislation. Forced-feeding was “cruel and unnecessary” and cages so small animals cannot stand or turn around were of “grave concern” MEPs said Thursday. Over 90 percent of EU-farmed rabbits are kept in cages.

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Speculations Run Amok as Johnson Crashes ‘Awkward One-on-One’ Meeting Between Biden and Morrison

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The Australian prime minister held a meeting with the US president on the sidelines of the G7 summit in England, where the two agreed to work closely on “challenges” in the Indo-Pacific region, among other things.

Scott Morrison was hoping for a one-on-one meeting with US President Joe Biden at the G7 summit in the UK, however, event host, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson frustrated his plans by crashing their tête-à-tête.

The Australian prime minister was invited to this year’s G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall and was set to meet Biden in a bilateral setting.

When Morrison was asked why the supposed private meeting suddenly included a third party, the prime minister said “it was an opportunity that presented because we’re all here and so it was mutual”.

“We were particularly keen to have the discussion with both parties”, he added.

The incident has prompted great speculation as to why Morrison was unable to secure a bilateral meeting with the US president.

“This seemed to me like it was Boris Johnson stepping in what seemed like it might be a little awkward meeting, given Morrison’s full-on support for [former US President Donald] Trump”, Nikki Sava, a former adviser to ex-Australian Prime Minister John Howard, told ABC’s Insiders.

Many others ventured that Johnson’s decision to make the meeting trilateral was motivated by a willingness to make discussions about climate change productive.

Labour’s Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Penny Wong called the prime minister’s inability to secure a face-to-face meeting with Biden “disappointing”, and suggested Morrison’s “stubborn refusal” to commit to net zero emissions by 2050 was damaging the country’s reputation on the world stage.

“Mr Morrison’s stubborn refusal to sign up to net zero emissions has left him isolated and left Australia isolated”, she said on Sunday.

Ex-Liberal opposition leader John Hewson, in turn, alleged Biden might “not be prepared to extend Morrison the privilege [of a one-on-one] given his indefensible irresponsibility and stubbornness on climate”.

Greens leader Adam Bandt, for his part, thinks the only reason why Morrison was invited to the G7 summit is so the heads of states and governments can rebuke him over Australia’s perceived inaction on climate change.

“Climate is a critical issue at this G7. It is the only game in town. When they sit down to discuss climate, Scott Morrison will be sitting at the kids’ table and I think part of the reason he’s been invited to this summit is so the rest of the world can give Australia a dressing down on climate”, Bandt told ABC’s Insiders on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Morrison has since rejected those claims, arguing that climate change was not a point of discussion for the meeting and would instead be a topic of conversation at Monday’s G7 Plus sessions. 

Following the trilateral meeting, Biden, Morrison, and Johnson issued in a joint statement, revealing they had “discussed a number of issues of mutual concern, including the Indo-Pacific region”.

Morrison later downplayed any suggestion of a diplomatic snub, describing it as “a meeting of great friends and allies who share a view on the world”.

“Australia has no greater friends than the United States and the United Kingdom. It was a great opportunity for my first meeting with the president. I’ve known Boris for many years, and there was a very easy understanding amongst the three of us”.



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EU relations: Berlin, Paris hoping Spain will stay close to EU’s French-German bloc | International

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France and Germany, considered the traditional axis of the European Union, are hoping that the Spanish government will remain a firm ally despite statements by Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya about seeking to diversify ties within the 27-country bloc.

In the space of just a few months, Spain has gone from embracing a G-3 of sorts with France and Germany to considering new alliances. These could include cooperation with Poland and Hungary in the battle to preserve European cohesion funds.

It makes sense to complement alliances with other states, but there is no substantial reason to justify walking away from the Franco-German axis

Ignacio Molina, senior analyst at the Elcano Royal Institute

Toward the end of former Foreign Minister Josep Borrell’s term in office, there were attempts at opening up to alternative alliances as Europe moved to a post-Brexit scenario. But it is González Laya’s first steps at the helm of the Foreign Ministry that have most clearly set the new tone.

Sources consulted by this newspaper played down this difference and instead highlighted Spain’s pro-European sentiment as a key to EU collaboration.

“It is normal for each country to seek out partners based on its own interests regarding a specific issue,” said a German diplomat. “This is not a big surprise, and you could also see it happening with Borrell. “The main thing, and there is no question about this, is that everyone should row in the same direction: for a Europe that is strong and shows solidarity.”

A French diplomatic source said that Spain remains a key player in the new European landscape that opened up when Britain left the club on January 31. “We cannot build a sovereign Europe without great involvement by Spain,” said this source. “France and Germany expect a lot from their main partners, particularly from Spain, in order to address Europe’s challenges.”

Everyone should row in the same direction: for a Europe that is strong and shows solidarity

Anonymous German diplomat

Since 1986, the year it joined the European club, Spain has stuck close to the French-German axis. “The only time we went our own way was in 2001, under [former Prime Minister] José María Aznar, and that was a strategic move prompted by the Iraq war,” notes Ignacio Molina, a senior analyst at Elcano Royal Institute. “It is not possible to distance yourself from the axis: [Hungarian PM Viktor] Orban can do it, the way that Aznar did, but everything in the EU goes through that core group.”

In early February, González Laya told this newspaper that she wished to cooperate with France and Germany on some policies, but not on all. “On other issues, the geometry will be a little bit different,” she said, citing a few countries from Eastern Europe that follow opposite policies from Spain on issues such as immigration or the rule of law. In spite of this, Spain could consider these countries allies on matters such as EU cohesion policy.

In her initial days in office, the new minister received Mediterranean colleagues first, notably Italy’s Luigi di Maio and Greece’s Nikos Dendias. But two sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said there is no particular state strategy behind the move. Instead, it is González Laya’s own take on the role that Spain should play within a bloc that has just lost its second-biggest economy, triggering a political reshuffle on the continent.

The minister will appear before Congress for the first time this coming Thursday, when she will discuss the main lines of her work as head of Spanish diplomacy.

González Laya was asked to come Berlin by Germany’s foreign minister, the social-democrat Heiko Maas, in the welcome letter he sent her following her appointment. While these letters are part of the protocol, they do not always include an invitation. No date has been set yet for the meeting.

This week, a lower-level bilateral meeting between Spain and France is taking place in Madrid, where the Spanish Secretary of State for European Affairs, Juan González-Barba, will meet with his French counterpart, Amélie de Montchalin. These two officials will also meet with a Portuguese representative to discuss electricity connections between their countries.

The Elcano analyst trusts that González Laya’s early remarks will not result in a more distant relationship between Spain, France and Germany. “It makes sense to complement alliances with other states, but there is no substantial reason to justify walking away from the Franco-German axis,” said Ignacio Molina.

English version by Susana Urra.

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