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One million Chileans take to streets to demand resignation of president Sebastian Pinera

It was the seventh day in a week of protests that has seen 19 people killed.

chile-protests An anti-government protester with a Chilean flag during clashes with police in Valparaiso Source: Matias Delacroix/PA Images

MORE THAN ONE million people have taken to the streets of Chile for the largest protests yet in a week of demonstrations that have so far killed 19 people.

Protesters gathered yesterday to demand economic reforms and the resignation of President Sebastian Pinera, who said he had “heard the message” in a post on Twitter. 

Demonstrators carrying indigenous and national flags sang popular resistance songs from the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship era as the country, usually seen as one of the most stable in Latin America, grapples with its worst violence in decades.

Santiago’s governor Karla Rubilar described it as “a historic day” on Twitter, praising “a peaceful march… representing the dream of a new Chile”.

Rubilar said that more than one million were demonstrating around the country, while Santiago’s town hall put the number of people marching in the capital at 820,000, citing police figures.

For the past week, Chileans’ pent-up anger has spilled over in the form of protests against a socio-economic structure, initially sparked by a rise in public transport fares.

Pinera, a conservative billionaire, wrote on Twitter that “the massive, happy and peaceful march today, where Chileans demanded a more just and supportive Chile, opens great paths for the future and hope”.

“We have all heard the message. We have all changed. With unity and help from God, we will travel the road towards a Chile that is better for all,” he said.

Earlier this week, he apologised for failing to anticipate the outbreak of social unrest and announced a raft of measures designed to placate people, such as increases in minimum pensions and wages.

He also announced a plan to end a deeply unpopular state of emergency and to lift a nighttime curfew, although both of those are now into their seventh day.

On Friday he called on legislators to “urgently approve these projects rather than arguing and debating so much.”

Tweet by @Karla Rubilar Barahona Source: Karla Rubilar Barahona/Twitter

Drop in violence

The violence has been the worst since Chile returned to democracy after Pinochet’s right-wing dictatorship. And the protests show no sign of abating.

Security forces have been blamed for five of the 19 protest-related deaths, with many on social media accusing forces of torture and abuse.

On Thursday, the United Nations said it was sending a team to investigate the allegations.

However, the number of serious incidents and arrests have decreased in recent days compared with the beginning of the movement.

As demonstrators passed by the presidential palace in central Santiago yesterday, they hurled insults at Pinera and the military.

But although the mass street movement appears to be organised, it still lacks recognisable leaders and was mostly roused through social media.

Regular media has also found itself a target of protesters’ ire with the distribution of leaflets calling for people not to turn on their televisions.

anti-government-protests-in-chile Thousands of people attend a demonstration near Plaza Italia in Santiago Source: Adrien Vautier/PA Images

The latest demonstrations came after a two-day strike on Wednesday and Thursday arranged by Chile’s largest and most powerful trade union, although business in Santiago continued as usual for the most part.

The national human rights institute – INDH – said that 584 people have been injured in the protests so far, 245 of them by firearms, and that 2,410 have also been detained.

The government said on Thursday that next month’s APEC trade summit in Santiago would go ahead despite the protests.

US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping are among those expected to attend the meeting to discuss ending their trade war.

- © AFP 2019

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