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Violence in Chile sparked by metro fare hike has left three dead

Protests are angry at the increasing cost of living in Chile.

chile-subway-protest A demonstrator is detained by the police during a protest in Santiago. Esteban Felix / AP/Press Association Images Esteban Felix / AP/Press Association Images / AP/Press Association Images

THREE PEOPLE HAVE died in a fire in a supermarket that was ransacked in the Chilean capital early this morning, as protests sparked by anger over social and economic conditions rocked the country.

Yesterday, a curfew starting at 1am on Sunday had been announced by Chilean authorities in response to the ongoing protests. 

Santiago’s Mayor Karla Rubilar told reporters that two people burned to death in the blaze and another later died in hospital. 

These were the first deaths after two days of violent unrest that have seen buses on fire, burned metro stations and clashes with riot police in the city of seven million. 

The protests were triggered by an unpopular rise in metro fares. Yesterday, President Sebastian Pinera announced that he was suspending the fare increase.

He appealed to people taking to the streets, saying “there are good reasons to do so” but calling on them “to demonstrate peacefully” and saying “nobody has the right to act with brutal criminal violence”. 

But protesters again set buses on fire in downtown Santiago, leading to the suspension of services.

“We’re sick and tired, enough already. We’re tired of them screwing around with us. Politicians only do what they want to do, and turn their backs on all reality,” said Javiera Alarcon, a 29-year-old sociologist protesting in front of the presidential palace, which was surrounded by police and military vehicles.

Security forces used a water cannon, while riot police forced young protesters into vans.

“Having analysed the situation and the appalling actions that occurred today, I have made the decision to suspend freedoms and movement through a total curfew,” said Army General Javier Iturriaga, who is in charge of security during the state of emergency.

Later on Saturday, the mayors of Valparaiso region and Concepción province also announced states of emergency.

Dozens of protesters torched a building belonging to Chile’s oldest newspaper El Mercurio in Valparaiso city on Saturday evening, while elsewhere in the port city a metro station, supermarkets and other stores were burned.

The unrest was sparked by a hike in metro fares, which increased from 800 to 830 peso for peak-hour travel, after a 20-peso hike in January.

chile-subway-protest Demonstrators build a burning barricade during a protest in Santiago. Esteban Felix / AP/Press Association Images Esteban Felix / AP/Press Association Images / AP/Press Association Images

The Santiago Metro, at 140 kilometres, is the largest and most modern in South America and a source of great pride for Chileans.

Demonstrators shouted “enough with abuse,” while the hashtag #ChileDesperto – Chile awake – made the rounds on social media. 

Pinera’s conservative government declared the state of emergency late on Friday night and ordered hundreds of troops into the streets.

People were infuriated by a photo of Pinera eating pizza in a restaurant with his family while the city burned.

On Friday, rampaging protesters clashed with riot police in several parts of the capital while the headquarters of the ENEL Chile power company and a Banco Chile branch – both in the city centre – were set on fire and heavily damaged.

The state of emergency is initially set for 15 days and restricts freedom of movement and assembly. 

The unrest started as a fare-dodging protest mainly by students against the hike in metro ticket prices, blamed on rising oil prices and a weaker peso.

There had been several fare-dodging actions in recent days, organized on social media, but the protests escalated on Friday, tapping into general discontent among many Chileans.

Chile has the highest per capita income of Latin America at $20,000, with expected economic growth this year of 2.5% and just 2% inflation.

But there is an undercurrent of frustration with rising health care and utility costs, low pensions and social inequality.

© – AFP 2019  

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