Mega-rally marks Chile protests third week as President struggles


Santiago (AFP) Protesters in Chile clashed with police, looted stores and endured a strong earthquake at the close of a huge rally kicking off the third week of anti-government demonstrations that have sparked deadly unrest.

Tens of thousands of people gathered in Plaza de Italia, the epicenter of the unrest over economic inequality and other woes, and tried to march on the presidential palace in downtown Santiago.

Fights broke out with police trying to contain them, with officers firing water cannons and tear gas. One officer was hit in the face with a Molotov cocktail.

People banged pots and pans and blared the horns of their cars as night fell in Santiago.

Barricades were set up for the first time near a shopping mall that features the tallest skyscraper in Latin America.

The 6.0 magnitude earthquake hit just as tensions were rising in Santiago, rattling buildings. A strong and prolonged shaking was felt, but there were no reports of injuries or damage.

Looting and vandalism was reported in the cities of Vina del Mar, Valparaiso and Concepcion.

Protesters angry at the high cost of living, the gap between rich and poor, tight pensions and expensive health care are demanding the resignation of conservative President Sebastian Pinera.

Pinera held talks with opposition parties last week but they said he failed to convince them he has the will to make the necessary changes to calm the protests.

Prosecutors say 20 people have died in unrest since the protests began on October 20.

A UN human rights mission is investigating allegations of police brutality.

Pinera tried to crack down on the riots in the first week but the bid backfired.

He was forced to cancel the hosting of two major international summits including the COP climate meeting due to the unrest.

Protesters organized rallies on Monday under the slogan “This is not over.” Some citizens returned to work despite vandalism that has damaged the underground train network.

“The fight goes on, but we have to get the country up and running again,” said one commuter, accountant Olga Perez.

“It won’t help anyone if the country falls into a slump.” Protesters are calling for constitutional reform. Chile’s current constitution dates back to the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

A survey by pollster Cadem published on Sunday indicated that 87 per cent of Chileans favored such reforms.

The study indicated Pinera’s approval rating had plunged to 13 per cent.

The government said Chile’s economy grew three per cent in September but it forecast a contraction of 0.5 per cent in October due to the unrest.

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