Colombia grinds to a halt

For BBC news (September 1, 1999, 2:47 GMT) by Jeremy Mc Dermott in Colombia


Much of Colombia has been brought to a standstill on the first day of an indefinite, nationwide strike against the government's economic policies.

The day ended without the anticipated civil violence, but buses were set on fire, demonstrators clashed with riot police and Marxist rebels seized a power station to support the strikers.

Security forces on full alert across the country managed to stamp out violent demonstrations before they were able to gather momentum.

Several hundred protesters were arrested, and in all the major cities, the public transport systems were paralysed.

The worst disturbance was in the south of Bogota, where demonstrators threw rocks at riot police who responded with tear gas.

Marxist guerrillas supported the strike by seizing a power station near the town of Buenaventura on the Pacific coast, holding the estimated 100 workers hostage.

Military sources have said the occupation is over and the hostages have been freed. However, there has been no independent confirmation.


The national strike has been called to protest against government austerity measures as Colombia plunges into its deepest recession in over 70 years, with unemployment at 20%.

Over a million public sector workers joined the strike, demanding an end to free market policies and plans to get an IMF loan to bail out the troubled economy.

The authorities estimate that the strike is costing the country $130m every day - income it can ill afford to lose.