Chile strike: Clashes mar anti-government protest
- 26 August 2011
- From the section Latin America & Caribbean
Tens of thousands of Chileans have taken to the streets on the second and final day of a general strike to call for far-reaching reforms.
Union members, students, government workers and centre-left opposition parties were among those demonstrating.
The government said participation in the strike was low.
The day ended with violent clashes between some youths and police, and a teenage boy shot in Santiago later died of his injuries.
The boy, identified by Chilean media as 16-year-old Manuel Gutierrez Reinoso, was shot in the chest late on Thursday night. Initial reports had said he was 14.
The circumstances of the incident were not clear and police have launched an investigation.
Witnesses said the shot had been fired by a police officer.
The violence on Thursday night was a repeat of the previous day. Marches began peacefully but were then overshadowed by violent confrontations between gangs of youths and riot police armed with tear gas and water cannon.
There have been hundreds of arrests over the two-day stoppage. Scores of demonstrators and police have also been injured, with at least two officers suffering gunshot wounds.
The protests were triggered by students demanding free education but have grown into a more general movement demanding constitutional reform, improved pension provision, new labour laws and corporate tax increases to pay for education and health.
Chile's main trade union federation, the CUT, said 600,000 people joined demonstrations nationwide, including 400,000 in the capital, Santiago.
It said 80% of its members had taken part in the stoppage.
But police put demonstrators in Santiago at 50,000, while the government said only about 10% of workers had been on strike.
'Riches for the few'
Student groups have been protesting for weeks to press for changes to the education system, arguing the current one is under-funded and unequal.
But the focus of the protests had widened to take in Chile's economic model. The economy is predicted to grow 6% this year, but some Chileans say they feel excluded from prosperity.
"It's time to change the political system, the economic system, so there is a fairer redistribution of power and of wealth," said student leader Camila Vallejo.
"All this development model has done is make a few grossly rich."
President Sebastian Pinera, who has seen his approval ratings fall to some 26% in recent weeks, said the strike was unjustified.
He says the economy is providing more opportunities, and his government has insisted the correct place to assert demands for reform is at the ballot box and in Congress.
"A protest march is one thing, it is quite another thing to attempt to paralyse the country," he said.
"When the country is paralysed, nobody wins, everybody loses."