Thousands march in Colombia to protest government reforms

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By Andres Rojas and Camilo Cohecha

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Thousands of people marched through Colombia's biggest cities on Wednesday to protest political, economic and social reforms backed by President Gustavo Petro, as well as to demand action against deteriorating security.

Leftist Petro was elected in 2022 on ambitious promises to fight poverty and inequality, and end Colombia's six decades of internal conflict, which has killed at least 450,000.

The government's biggest proposals - reforms targeting health, pensions, the labor system and education - have faced stiff opposition in congress and from the opposition.

Demonstrators in capital Bogota chanted "No more Petro!" and "Petro, out!" while marching with flags and placards emblazoned with slogans criticizing the president.

"They are disastrous reforms for our country that are going to lead Colombia into a hole ... that is why we are here," Congressman Miguel Polo Polo told Reuters at the march.

"This corrupt government promised change and deceived all Colombians," said Clara Prieto, a protester in Bogota who had draped herself in the country's flag.

The protests, which were peaceful, also took place in cities like Medellin and Cali. As of midday, some 52,000 people had taken part nationally, according to the police.

Petro has defended the reforms, arguing they will benefit the country's poorest.

"There will always be those coming from privilege who do not want to lose (their privileges)," Petro said on Wednesday at a government event in Bogota.

While reform proposals are making their way through Congress, Petro lacks a majority among lawmakers after a tenuous coalition disintegrated last April.

(Reporting by Andres Rojas and Camilo Cohecha; Additional reporting and writing by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Sandra Maler)