Colombian "indignados" took to the streets of the nation's biggest cities during their "Day of Dignity" protest against the country's social inequality, during which 71 people were arrested in the capital for disturbing the peace.

A range of social sectors answered the call to Friday's demonstrations in Bogota, from students participating in an apprenticeship program to judicial employees who walked off the job Thursday to demand the government comply with a 20-year-old mandate to standardize their pay.

A total of 71 demonstrators were arrested in Bogota on grounds of causing public disorder, while charges were filed against one individual for striking a police officer.

Bogota government secretary Guillermo Asprilla told reporters that eight people suffered slight injuries.

Meanwhile several downtown stores in the capital were damaged when attacked with clubs and stones, as was a bus station.

Interior Minister Fernando Carrillo, for his part, regretted that some people took advantage of legitimate marches to carry out acts of violence.

"What the government wants to repeat today and always guarantee is the right to freedom of speech, the right to march. We have the absolute conviction that social organizations should be able to exercise this right of social protest - the only thing we regret is that there have been isolated acts of violence," Carrillo said.

Protests were not confined to the cities, however, as residents mounted demonstrations in remote rural areas of provinces such as Putumayo, bordering Ecuador, and Norte de Santander, which sits on the border with Venezuela.

The number of participants nationwide was about 300,000, David Florez, spokesman for the leftist Marcha Patriotica movement and organizer of the protest together with close to 100 non-governmental organizations, told Efe.

Florez said that the "National Indignados March" took place in 25 of the 32 Colombian provinces and had a spirit of "civilizing the widespread disagreement of the Colombia people with the unequal model of the country."

According to local media, homemade bombs were thrown during many of the demonstrations, while paint-filled capsules were splattered against some buildings.

Florez also said that "at this critical juncture we must demand the direct participation of the popular movement in the peace talks" between the government and the FARC, planned to begin on Oct. 17 in Norway.

"The possibility of making peace must include all Colombians in a discussion of the kind of country we want. There can be no peace if this continues to be the most unequal country in the world," he said.

Colombia is the world's 10th most-unequal country in terms of income distribution as measured by the Gini index, a metric used by the World Bank, United Nations and other international institutions. EFE