SANTIAGO: Chile’s capital experienced its worst night of anti-government violence in weeks after stone-throwing protesters clashed with police in running battles across the city, forcing public transport to shut down.
Demonstrators returned to Santiago’s Plaza Italia on Monday to rally against economic inequality and condemn the government of right-wing billionaire president Sebastian Pinera.
By nightfall a group of hooded men clashed with riot officers in nearby streets, hurling rocks and firing projectiles with slingshots.
One protester was run over by a police vehicle during the clashes, police Captain Juan Chevy told local media.
Chevy said the driver had lost control “due to an overwhelming number of objects and Molotov bombs that were thrown on the windshield of the police vehicle.” Elsewhere in the city protesters built barricades and set them alight before being dispersed by police using tear gas and water cannons.
Interior and Security Minister Gonzalo Blumel condemned the violence, which he said left 73 police officers injured and 283 people detained.
Blumel told Chile’s Radio Agricultura that the capital was able to cope with the protests until they got out of control.
“The people were able to carry out their activities but in the afternoon and at night there was violence, pure and simple. Acts of violence that have nothing to do with social demands,” the minister said.
Blumel said the government had sought the advice of German and British police forces on maintaining public order, and said Chile would increase the police presence by 50 per cent to confront protesters.
Public transport was suspended in the capital around 10:00pm (0100 GMT) for safety reasons, authorities said. Services resumed at dawn, when barricades were still smoldering and traffic light poles lay on the roads into the city. More than 30 people have died since protests began last October with the announcement of a modest hike in metro transport fares.
The demonstrations have mushroomed to encompass wider discontent over social and economic woes.
Around 23 police officers were injured last week during clashes with rioters at the Vina del Mar music festival west of the capital. Authorities fear a new round of rallies this month with the end of the summer holiday season.
Protest organisers have circulated a calendar of demonstrations, including International Women’s Day on March 8, and the anniversary of the deaths of two brothers murdered by the former Pinochet dictatorship on March 29.
The aim is to pressure Pinera’s conservative government to expand social reforms it has already proposed in order to quell violent protests which began last October.
Published in Dawn, March 4th, 2020