Police battled scattered groups of rioters here today as violence spurred by a strike for higher wages subsided. The two days of street fighting and looting was the worst violence in Colombia in almost 20 years.

The government said close to 5,000 people were detained here and in the provincial city Barranquilla during demonstrations that spread through poor neighborhoods following a 24-hour general strike on the rioting.

Fifteen persons died and more than 120 were injured in the rioting.

The strike and subsequent distrubances were seen here as a serious blow to the government of President Alfonso Lopez Michelsen, which has been weakened by runaway inflation estimated at an annual rate of 48 per cent.

Colombia, one of the few South American countries with an elected government, will elect a new president next year. Inflation is an issue that could hurt the Liberal party of Lopez, who cannot succeed himself.

Labor leaders called the strike a success, noting that it had brought public transportation to a standstill and forced most stores, factories and schools to close. Workers returned to their jobs yesterday, but rioting and looting continued, especially in the slums of southern Bogota.

Special correspondent Penny Lernoux reported that the rioting was worst in Barranquilla and the slums on the mountainsides south of Bogota.

She said rioters barricaded the only road to eastern plains for several hours yesterday and held off police and military from mountainside shantytowns all morning.

Lernoux said the strike was called by two moderate union federations that traditionally have not challenged the country's powerful business establishment. She said the leaders were under heavy pressure from the rank and file, who have been hit hard by rising Orices.

Union leaders vowed today to continue to agitate for higher wages. The government has agreed to boost minimum wages, which average about $59 per month for about 2 million workers, but has opposed across-the-board increases demanded by the unions.The unions have demanded pay raises of about 50 per cent.

Lopez took a hard line against the strikers, saying the strike had been a failure and ordering a curfew. He said in a televised speech that those detained for looting would be held for 280 days.

Many of those arrested are being held in open air sports arenas.

Lopez refused to grant the unions' pay raise demands, but the government agreed to resume talks with labor federations next week.

In the decade from 1948 to 1958, Colombians of the two major political parties fought an undeclared civil war, known as la violencia, in which thousands were killed. Peace finally was restored under a 15-year power-sharing pact between the Liberal and Conservative parties.