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Priest blesses church hijack in Colombia

BOGATA (SE): Forty school teachers began a sit-in at the Church of San Francisco in Bogota, Colombia, at the end of Mass on June 6.
They have since been joined by dozens of others and taken control of one of the city’s oldest places of worship as part of a nationwide movement to improve the education system in the country.
Thousands of teachers had converged on the capital in a call to the government to provide better wages and increase its investment in public education.
They asked the parish priest for permission to hold a permanent vigil in the church which was readily granted with his blessing. The doors of the 16th century church were closed, locking out the police.
Teachers have been on a nationwide strike for almost one month and millions of students have been affected.
The seizure of the historical landmark is being used as a bargaining chip by unions to pressure all parties involved to sit down at the table with the Ministry of Education.
The teachers at the sit-in said, “Our vigil is intended to encourage the Catholic Church and parliamentarians who are friends of public education to promote a reform of the General Participation System, increasing the budget for education, health, basic sanitation and drinking water.”
Telesur reported they describe their action as a call to all citizens to gather around the faith and fight for a quality education.
Union leaders say students and parents have increasingly thrown their support behind the movement for better quality education.
Colombia’s attorney general, Fernando Carrillo Florez, has been drafted as a mediator in the negotiations.
The two sides are expected to start talks soon. The teachers’ full demands include more funding for food programmes, transportation, infrastructure, salaries, laboratories, sports fields and internet access in schools.
The government has in return offered a bonus of 15 per cent that will only be available to the longest-serving teachers.

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