Bogota (AFP) – Colombia will no longer co-host this year’s Copa America after street protests and social unrest swept the country.

South American football’s governing body CONMEBOL on Thursday rejected a plea by Colombia to postpone the June 13-July 10 tournament that it was to share with Argentina.

The Colombian government had pleaded with CONMEBOL to postpone the tournament until November but the federation refused.

Argentinian President Alberto Fernandez said his country would be ready to host all of the matches.

CONMEBOL said it would now decide where the games which were due to be held in Colombia will be played, with barely three weeks to go until the tournament is due to kick off.

Colombia is in the midst of a wave of protests and social unrest that has resulted in 42 deaths. Covid-19 cases have also shot up in the last few weeks.

Demonstrators initially took to the streets to protest a proposed tax reform. The plan was quickly shelved, but protests have since morphed into a broader manifestation of anti-government sentiment.

Large and sometimes violent demonstrations have been taking place in Bogota, Medellin and Cali — cities where Copa America games were to be played.

On May 13, a Copa Libertadores game in Barranquilla was suspended five times as clouds of tear gas used to break up protests outside the stadium wafted in and affected the players.

The Colombian government had fought desperately to keep its Copa America matches, arguing that delaying the tournament until the end of the year would have allowed spectators to be present in stadiums in Colombia and Argentina, where they are currently banned due to Covid-19.

The appeal fell on deaf ears with CONMEBOL citing “reasons relating to the international calendar and logistics of the tournament”.

Colombia is also seeing new peaks of deaths from the virus with nearly 500 a day since last week.

But Argentina too is grappling with its worst phase yet of the Covid-19 pandemic and on Tuesday recorded its highest one-day total of 744 coronavirus deaths.

President Fernandez announced on Thursday that Argentina would go into total lockdown for nine days to control the spread of the virus.

The tournament, like the European Championship, was due to take place last year but was postponed by 12 months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Two guest nations, Australia and Qatar, pulled out of the tournament in February due to a clash with World Cup qualifying dates.

Brazil are defending Copa America champions from when the tournament was last held in 2019.