BFF-03 Chile extends state of emergency as unrest death toll hits seven

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Chile extends state of emergency as unrest death toll hits seven

SANTIAGO, Oct 21, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – Five people died Sunday when a garment
factory was torched by looters near Chile’s capital Santiago, bringing the
death toll in a wave of unrest to seven as authorities expanded a state of
emergency. Police and the military fired tear gas and used water cannon
against protesters in the city as clashes over price hikes and social
inequality raged through a third day.

Almost all public transport was paralyzed in Santiago, with shops shuttered
and many flights canceled at the international airport, leaving thousands of
people stranded and unable to leave due to the curfew.

After an emergency meeting late Sunday, President Sebastian Pinera defended
his decision to call a state of emergency and deploy troops onto the streets
for the first time since Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship between
1974-1990.

“Democracy not only has the right, it has the obligation to defend itself
using all the instruments that democracy itself provides, and the rule of law
to combat those who want to destroy it,” Pinera said.

The state of emergency was extended on Sunday, with Interior and Security
Minister Andres Chadwick saying new decrees were being drawn up for
Antofagasta in the north, Valdivia in the south, and other cities such as
Valparaiso, Temuco and Punto Arenas.

Firefighters said five people died in a garment factory burned by rioters
in Renca, a northern suburb of Santiago.

Earlier, Chadwick said two women burned to death after a store owned by US
retail chain Walmart was set alight in the early hours of Sunday. One victim,
who authorities initially said had died in hospital, suffered burns on 75
percent of her body.

– Escalating violence –

Authorities reported 103 serious incidents throughout the country with
1,462 people detained — 614 in Santiago and 848 in the rest of the country.

Protesters set fire to buses, smashed up metro stations, knocked down
traffic lights, ransacked shops and clashed with riot police in Santiago and
other cities.

During the curfew from 7:00 pm (2200 GMT) until dawn, people should “be
calm and all in their homes,” defense official General Javier Iturriaga
announced.

What started earlier in the week as a protest against a hike in metro fares
escalated dramatically on Friday as demonstrators expressed anger over social
inequality and the government’s liberal economic system.

On Saturday, Pinera announced he was suspending the fare increase.

Pinera acknowledged that those in the streets had “good reasons” to protest
but called on them “to demonstrate peacefully.”

The appeal failed to prevent further rioting and looting.

“It’s really sad what’s happening, but the people are outraged because
they’re not being listened to,” 26-year-old Antonia told AFP in central
Santiago.

Dozens of protesters torched a building belonging to Chile’s oldest
newspaper, El Mercurio, in Valparaiso on Saturday evening, while elsewhere a
metro station, supermarkets and other stores were set on fire.

– Social tensions erupt –

Santiago’s metro system — South America’s largest and most modern and used
by around three million people a day — was shut down on Friday as protesters
burned and vandalized stations.

Louis de Grange, president of the state Metro S.A. company, told Canal 13
the “brutal destruction” of the service had caused more than $300 million in
damage.

The hike in fares that set off the violence would have raised the price of
peak hour travel from 800 to 830 pesos ($1.13 to $1.15).

The government said the hike, which followed a 20-peso increase in January,
was driven by rising oil prices and a weakening peso.

Initially, students and others responded by fare-dodging, but underlying
social tensions quickly bubbled to the surface.

On Friday, the headquarters of the ENEL Chile power company and a Banco
Chile branch — both in the center of Santiago — were set on fire and
heavily damaged.

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 widespread frustration with economic policies that have
virtually privatized all health care and education, at a time that falling
pensions and rising costs of basic services have exacerbated social
inequality.

BSS/AFP/MSY/0816 hrs