Colombia deploys 50,000 soldiers to restore order to Bogota after farmer protests


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Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said Friday that he is deploying 50,000 soldiers to patrol the streets of Bogota after at least two people died in street protests in which tens of thousands of demonstrators demanded support for striking farmers.

“I will do the same starting today in any municipality or area where the presence of our soldiers is necessary," Santos said in a televised statement.

The demonstrations in Bogota marked the first time that the farmworkers' rural protests had spread to the capital and other cities.

Farmers, hit by rising costs and competition from imports, are demanding increased agricultural subsidies and other relief. Miners, truck drivers, students and workers have joined the protests, each with their own set of grievances.

During protests on Thursday, vandals smashed windows at foreign businesses, banks and fast-food restaurants and damaged billboards and security cameras at bus stations in Bogota. They also threw rocks, bricks and rudimentary explosives known as "potato bombs” at police, who responded with tear gas and water canons.

The two deaths – reportedly a man in his 20s and an underage boy – occurred at protests in poor neighborhoods on the outskirts of Bogota.

"Unfortunately, several of these protests were infiltrated and taken advantage of by vandals whose sole purpose is to create chaos and destruction and damage public and private property," Santos said. "There's no protest that merits the loss of human life, even if the demands being made are legitimate."

Santos also said government negotiators were pulling out of talks with potato farmers in the state of Boyacá, although its proposed concessions remain on the table. The government has offered to eliminate fertilizer tariffs and buy some excess production. Some farmers want Colombia to also end free trade agreements with the United States and Korea.

The farmers’ strike is causing food shortages in the capitals of four provinces, including Bogota, CNN reported.

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.