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Protesters against Panama’s rising costs end roadblocks: authorities

#Protesters #Panamas #rising #costs #roadblocks #authorities

Protesters angered by the high cost of living in Panama ended their three-week blockade of main roads on Tuesday, authorities said, while negotiations between the government and groups behind the demonstrations continued.

Security Minister Juan Manuel Pino told AFP in a short message that the streets were “all open” for the first time since the protests began.

Earlier, police announced on Twitter that “roads blocked by protests have been cleared” and traffic is free to flow.

Panama has been gripped by protests over the cost of living and corruption in the worst social crisis since the country’s American invasion in 1989.

Since the riots began, protesters have blocked various roads, most notably the Pan-American Highway, which connects Panama to Costa Rica and is the country’s main route for trade and the transportation of goods.

The disruption to routes had caused food and fuel shortages in several cities.

On Tuesday, leaders of the Ngabe-Bugle indigenous region in the east of the country announced they would end the blockade of the Pan-American Highway in Chiriqui province, the source of most fresh food consumed in the country.

Panamanian President Laurentino Cortizo repeated his call to protesters to reopen the streets on Tuesday.

“The protests (and) road and highway closures affect us all, endangering the health and lives of Panamanians, increasing the cost of food and threatening jobs,” he said.

While the government “respects the right to protest,” Cortizo said, it should do so “without disruption to social order, violations of the rights of others, and much less vandalism.”

The opening of the streets came amid talks that have been taking place since Thursday in Penonome, 150 kilometers south-east of the capital, between the government and representatives of the organizations behind the protests.

So far, the government has agreed to cut the cost of 72 basic commodities and cut the price of fuel from $5.20 a gallon to $3.25.

However, the groups called for a reduction in the price of gasoline to $3, reductions in the cost of medicines and electricity, improvements in public health and education, and anti-corruption measures.

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