Thousands of Colombians protest Petro's economic, social reforms

By Nelson Bocanegra

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Colombians marched on Sunday to reject economic and social reforms being proposed by the leftist government of President Gustavo Petro, the latest in a series of demonstrations against Petro's policies.

The reforms, which Petro says will fight deep inequality but which opponents say will damage the country's already-struggling economy, were key campaign promises for the 64-year-old leader, who took office in 2022.

Despite gray skies and rain, some 70,000 people marched in Bogota, the capital, according to city government estimates, chanting "out with Petro," waving national flags and blowing on trumpets before gathering in the central Bolivar Square.

The march comes after a Senate committee earlier this month rejected a proposed health reform aimed at stripping power from insurers and expanding access to healthcare, as the government took control of two major insurers it said had failed to correctly care for patients.

The government is expected to propose a new version of the health reform once the new legislative session begins in July. Pension and labor reforms are still being debated by lawmakers.

"This government's policies are dire. The health system, despite its flaws, was working and now Petro is putting an end to it by plunging patients who have no healthcare or medicine into a crisis," said Monica Leon, a 45-year-old doctor.

Accountant Miguel Angel Larrota, 52, said he was protesting against bad governance and demanding that Petro "not destroy what works and put an end to the corruption he promised to fight."

Paloma Valencia, a senator from the opposition Democratic Center, a conservative political party founded by former President Alvaro Uribe, said the march was bringing together not only opponents but people who voted for Petro two years ago.

People also took to the streets in the city of Medellin and in Cali, near the Pacific coast.

Marches have also previously taken place in support of Petro's reforms.

(Reporting by Nelson Bocanegra; Writing by Luis Jaime Acosta and Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Leslie Adler)