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 paralysed South America’s most prosperous country.
Thousands gathered 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.
Unrest has picked up in
recent weeks ahead of an
October 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.
“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.