Chileans angry over social and economic issues clashed with security forces for a second day Saturday despite a state of emergency declared to quell the worst violence in years in one of Latin America’s most stable countries.
Authorities announced a curfew in Santiago starting at 0100 GMT Sunday, after protesters set buses on fire, burned metro stations and clashed with riot police in the city of seven million.
“Having analyzed 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 overseeing security during the state of emergency.
AFP video showed security forces blasting a crowd with water cannon, and riot police wrestling young protesters into vans.
The day had started with thousands of Chileans banging pots and pans in Santiago and other cities, reflecting broad anger over economic and social conditions, including a yawning gap between rich and poor.
But clashes later erupted in Plaza Italia, ground zero of Friday’s violence, and outside the presidential palace.
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.
The spasm of unrest was triggered by a hike in metro fares, which increased from 800 to 830 peso ($1.13 to $1.17) for peak-hour travel, after a 20-peso hike in January.
President Sebastian Pinera announced Saturday he was suspending the fare hike, after the entire metro system was shut down the day prior with protesters burning and vandalizing dozens of stations, leaving some completely charred.
The Santiago Metro, at 140 kilometers (90 miles), is the largest and most modern in South America and a source of great pride for Chileans.
People awoke Saturday to a ravaged city as burned-out buses, bikes and garbage littered streets patrolled by soldiers — the first such deployment since Chile returned to democracy in 1990 after the rightwing Augusto Pinochet dictatorship.
Demonstrators shouted “enough with abuse,” while the hashtag #ChileDesperto — Chile woke up — made the rounds on social media.
Pinera’s conservative government has been caught flat-footed by the worst social upheaval in decades.
It declared the state of emergency late Friday 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.
Throughout 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 center — were set on fire and heavily damaged.
The state of emergency is initially set for 15 days and restricts freedom of movement and assembly.
Government ‘perplexed and dazed’
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 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 percent and just two percent inflation.
But there is an undercurrent of frustration with rising health care and utility costs, low pensions and social inequality.
The metro fare hike served to wake up a society that was averse to violence after the horrors of the Pinochet dictatorship from 1973-1990, which left more than 3,200 people dead or missing, sociologists say.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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