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Colombia deploys troops to streets of Bogota

After violent protests which left two dead, Colombia's president has deployed troops in Bogota to maintain order. The unrest followed protests by farmers demanding the government ease local impacts of foreign trade.

Military personnel joined the Bogota police force in patroling streets of the capital city on Friday after violent clashes with protesters on Thursday night. President Juan Manual Santos handed down the order, which included the deployment of up to 50,000 troops allotted for Bogota and the country's highways.

"Yesterday I ordered the militarization of Bogota and I will do the same in any region or zone where the presence of soldiers is necessary," Santos said early Friday.

"There is no protest, as fair as it may be, that justifies loss of life," President Santos said. "We won't let these vandals get away with this ... Patience has run out."

What began as a peaceful protest by farmers and supporters on Thursday night descended into mayhem when masked activists infiltrated the crowd, hurling rocks and bricks, smashing windows and damaging other structures. They then clashed with riot police who fired tear gas into the crowds. At least two people died in the unrest.

Interior Minister Fernando Carillo lamented the turn of events overnight, saying the vandalism "had nothing to do with the farmers' movement."

There were reports of officials alleging that Marxist FARC rebels (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) - with whom the government has recently entered into peace talks - had infiltrated the mass demonstration to destabilize security. The agricultural groups did not comment on these allegations.

Farmers began demonstrating against the country's agricultural and trade policies 12 days ago by blocking roads in order to prevent deliveries from reaching markets. They say that free trade policies were ruining their livelihood by driving down the prices of products, such as milk and potatoes.

The countryside protests eventually spread to several cities, including Bogota.

Farmers limit strike

Hours after the announcement, farmers said they had reached "partial agreements" with the government and would lift road blockades around Colombia but would continue protests.

Interior Minister Fernando Carillo described the agreement on Friday as a "gesture of goodwill," without providing further details.

President Santos acknowledged the farmers' hardship this week and said he would consider price controls. However, it was not immediately clear what agreement the two sides had reached by Friday.

A farmworker spokesperson said demonstrators did not expect the government to reverse its free trade policy.

The government "does not want to touch the [free trade agreements] with the United States and the European Union; and those people have subsidies, low production costs and high technology, and we can't compete with that," said spokesperson Cesar Pachon.

"What we are looking for is a guarantee that we will be able to survive as farmers," Pachon said.

Government negotiators were expected to resume talks with farmers from Boyaca state, which lies northeast of the capital.

kms/ipj (AP, AFP, Reuters)