Latin America & Caribbean

Chile protests: President Piñera to meet opposition

A riot police water cannon sprays water towards demonstrators during a protest in Santiago. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Security forces have been using water cannon to break up protests

Chilean President Sebastián Piñera has said he will meet opposition leaders amid major protests which have left 15 people dead since Friday.

The crisis started in the capital, Santiago, over a rise in metro prices which has since been overturned.

It quickly spread to other cities, fuelled by anger over rising living costs and high levels of inequality.

While some protests were peaceful, there were also outbreaks of looting and arson.

The response of the security forces has been criticised as heavy-handed and on Tuesday a government spokesman tweeted [in Spanish] that "the armed forces had been involved in four of the 15 deaths" which have occurred since the protests began.

One of those killed was a 22-year-old man who was reportedly hit by a military truck in the southern city of Talcahuano.

What is the latest?

After using a very belligerent tone, labelling the protesters as criminals and declaring that the country was "at war with an implacable enemy", President Piñera took a more conciliatory approach on Tuesday in announcing that he would meet opposition leaders.

He said the aim was to "progress towards a social contract which will allow us to together find better solutions to the problems afflicting Chileans".

The president did not say who would take part in the meeting, but Chile's Socialist Party said it would not attend, arguing that key civil society groups had not been invited.


'Chile has woken up'

Protesters are gathering again as they have every day since the unrest started. The crowds are swelling with people banging pots and pans and shouting chants like "Chile has woken up" and "Soldiers go away".

People's complaints are varied - healthcare, education, an out-of-touch political elite - but everyone I have spoken to who is not involved in the protests says they support these mostly peaceful demonstrations and calls for change.

Soldiers are also out in force, patrolling outside supermarket queues and standing by protests. Chileans feel they are trying to intimidate - and it works. Most won't risk staying out beyond the curfew that's been imposed in the past few evenings.


Commentators in the Chilean media have pointed out that part of the difficulty in quelling the protests is that no clear leaders or spokespeople have emerged, and that people's grievances are disparate and manifold.

Many schools and shops remained closed on Tuesday both in Santiago and in other cities, and long queues again formed at petrol stations.

The metro is still only partially running in the capital, with many of its stations badly damaged in the protests.

How did it all start?

In the wake of an increase in metro fares in Santiago, high school pupils and university students called on passengers to take part in what they called "mass evasion", evading paying fares by jumping over the turnstiles.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The protests were kicked off by students calling for a fare-dodging protest

There was chaos at metro stations as police confronted the fare dodgers and violent clashes ensued.

The protests quickly turned into mass demonstrations which were joined by Chileans who said they felt squeezed by rising living costs and low wages.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionProtesters and security forces clash in Santiago

Chile is one of the most prosperous countries in the region but it has high levels of inequality, and many Chileans say they feel their concerns are being ignored by the government of President Piñera, a billionaire businessman.

The clashes also come amid continuing discontent in some of the country's universities and schools over lack of resources and underfunding.

Why did the clashes turn violent so quickly?

The anger quickly boiled over with a hard core of protesters turning to looting and arson.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Various sites - from billboards to supermarkets - have been set ablaze in Santiago

The police responded by firing tear gas and using water cannon, and many demonstrators described it as heavy-handed and brutal.

United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, who was Mr Piñera's predecessor in office, has called for an independent investigation into the alleged excesses of the security forces. She also urged the protesters to refrain from violence.

By the time the fare increase which triggered the protests was overturned, anger had risen to such levels that many Chileans defied curfews imposed in a number of cities to continue demonstrating.

The deployment of the army on the streets, the first time since Chile's return to democracy in 1990 after years of military rule, further riled protesters.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Thousands of people have been arrested

More than 2,600 people have been detained since Friday.


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