Chile at par with HK on fiery riots

Top News | AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE 22 Oct 2019

Chile is "at war," President Sebastian Pinera says, as the country reels from three days of violent demonstrations and looting that have left seven dead and almost 1,500 in custody in the worst outbreak of social unrest in decades.

"We are at war against a powerful, implacable enemy, who does not respect anything or anyone and is willing to use violence and crime without any limits," right-wing Pinera said.

Santiago and nine other of Chile's 16 regions were under a state of emergency, with troops deployed onto the streets for the first time since Augusto Pinochet's military dictatorship between 1973-1990.

The clashes, which have seen some 9,500 police and military fire tear gas and water cannon against protesters who have set fire to buses, smashed up metro stations and ransacked shops, were sparked by anger over price hikes and social inequality.

This comes amid violent protests in other countries and regions, including Hong Kong.

Despite a growth rate that should reach 2.5 percent of GDP this year, several social indicators - such as health, education and pensions - show very high inequalities.

This anger boiled over last week as a protest against a rise in metro fares escalated dramatically. Five people died when a garment factory was torched in a Santiago suburb, despite Pinera's announcement that he was suspending the fare increase.

Two women burned to death after a Walmart-owned store was set alight.

Public transport was paralyzed in Santiago on Sunday, with shops shuttered and many flights canceled at the international airport, leaving thousands stranded due to a curfew imposed from 7pm until dawn.

Several international Chilean football players have asked leaders to "listen to the people" and to find solutions. "I pray that my beloved Chile will be better," Barcelona midfielder Arturo Vidal said.

Santiago's metro system - South America's largest and most modern and used by three million people a day - was shut down on Friday after a "brutal destruction" of the service had caused more than US$300 million (HK$2.34 billion) in damage. The hike in fares would have raised the price of peak hour travel from 800 pesos (HK$8.73) to 830 pesos.

Chile has the highest per capita income of Latin America at US$20,000. Yet there is widespread frustration with economic policies.

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