Protesters Clash With Chile Police, Burn Church in Santiago

Protesters clashed with security forces, looted stores and burnt barricades in many Chilean cities on the one-year anniversary of an outbreak of social unrest that virtually paralyzed South America’s most prosperous country.

Thousands gathered on Sunday in downtown Santiago’s Plaza Italia, which some people have turned to calling Plaza de la Dignidad (Dignity Plaza), flouting social distancing rules. As darkness fell, increased violence marred what began as a day of peaceful protest. One church, associated with the police, was sacked. Another was burned -- television images showed the steeple engulfed in flames before collapsing. Buses changed their routes or ended operations early and subway stations closed. Local media also reported clashes between police and protesters in cities such as Antofagasta, San Antonio and Rancagua.

Protesters Clash With Chile Police, Burn Church in Santiago

Unrest has picked up in recent weeks ahead of an Oct. 25 referendum, when Chileans will decide on whether to draft a new constitution or keep the one enacted during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. That vote is the only way to solve the country’s problems democratically, Interior Minister Victor Perez said late on Sunday.

“All differences should be dealt with through our democratic channels,” he said. “For people who don’t want that, we will confront them using all the mechanisms that the law establishes.”

A total of 580 people were arrested at the demonstrations and more than a hundred were injured, including police and civilians, the Interior Ministry reported on Monday. About 25,000 people protested in Santiago, according to Radio BioBio, a far cry from the millions that marched last year.

Police Violations

The social unrest began in October 2019 after protests against a rise in subway fares built to arson attacks on metro stations, curfews and armed forces on the streets. The movement condemned income inequality and demanded better social services and the drafting of a new constitution.

Amid last year’s violent clashes, accusations of human-rights violations piled up as police deployed rubber pellets, tear gas and batons. The country’s National Human Rights Institute has filed about 2,500 legal actions for human-rights violations, mostly against members of carabineros, Chile’s police.

The coronavirus pandemic and strict lockdowns served to calm protests down until recent weeks. Still, earlier this month, a police officer was detained for attempted murder after allegedly pushing a teenage boy from a bridge during a separate demonstration.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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