Seven dead in Colombia rioting over police killing

By: AFP      Published: 06:39 PM, 10 Sep, 2020
Seven dead in Colombia rioting over police killing
Demonstrators throw stones at riot police on motorbikes during a protest against the death of a lawyer under police custody, in Bogota. AFP

Seven people were killed and hundreds wounded after rioting broke out in the Colombian capital Bogota following the death of a man repeatedly tasered by police, authorities said Thursday.

Demonstrators took to the streets of the Colombian capital on Wednesday after video emerged of Javier Ordonez pleading with uniformed officers, who shocked him with the weapon at least five times as he lay on the ground.

At least three of the victims died of gunshot wounds, including a 17-year-old, police told a news conference.

"We are facing a massive act of violence," Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said after several police stations were attacked and destroyed.

Protests later spread to the cities of Medellin and Cali. 

Bogota mayor Claudia Lopez said on Twitter 326 people had been wounded in clashes between riot police and protesters, including 114 uniformed police.

Fifty-eight of the injured had been shot, Lopez said, lamenting the "indiscriminate use of firearms."

She said she was touring hospitals to hear testimony from victims and their relatives.

Trujillo told reporters 56 police posts had been "vandalized" and 70 people arrested for "violence against public forces."

The minister said he would bolster law enforcement in the capital city of more than seven million by sending in hundreds of soldiers and military police officers. 

Ordonez, a 46-year-old father of two, is heard repeatedly crying "please, no more" in the widely circulated footage of his arrest, taken by a friend. 

He was taken to a police station and transferred to a local medical facility but died soon afterward.

His family claim Ordonez was further assaulted after he was taken to the police station. 

'Sorrow' 

The defense minister said the officers who detained the victim had been immediately suspended. 

The police claim they had responded to a complaint of public drunkenness and that Ordonez had assulted them, necessitating the use of a taser.

"We express our sorrow for the death of Javier Ordonez and offer our solidarity with his family," Trujillo said.

"The national government will continue to cooperate with the authorities so that the facts are established as soon as possible."

Before the death toll rose to seven, the minister offered a reward for "the capture of the perpetrators of the murder of five people" during the unrest in Bogota and the neighboring municipality of Soacha.

Lopez, the city's leftist mayor elected last October, said the case highlighted the need for "deep and serious restructuring within the police".

She said 137 complaints of excessive use of force by the police had been made so far this year.

"There is a structural problem of cases of police abuse and, in addition, impunity," Lopez said in a statement.

For many Colombians, the case evoked the killing in the US in May of African American George Floyd, also 46, who suffocated after being pinned by the neck to the road under the knee of a white officer.

Floyd's plea that "I can't breathe" has become emblematic of police brutality toward black Americans, burnished on banners and T-shirts at protests that continue to roil the US.