SANTIAGO – Chile’s government has extended a state of emergency to cities in its north and south after at least eight people died amid violent clashes and arson attacks over the weekend, the interior minister said on Sunday night.
Andres Chadwick said in a press conference in the capital Santiago the decision to extend the emergency measure came amid an “escalation of violence and vandalism,” two weeks after protests led by students began over fare hikes on public transport.
He cited 70 incidents of “serious incidents of violence” on Sunday, including 40 lootings of supermarkets and other businesses, and said military and police numbers were at 10,500 in Santiago and would be reinforced where necessary.
“We are facing a real escalation that is undoubtedly organized to cause serious damage to our country and the lives of each of its citizens,” he said.
Santiago and other Chilean cities have been engulfed by several days of riots as protests over an increase in public transport costs prompted President Sebastian Piñera to reverse the move and declare a state of emergency.
The violent unrest with arson attacks and destruction of public and private property follows recent statements from Piñera bragging that Chile was an “oasis of stability” in the midst of a complicated region.
Chadwick said eight people had been killed in incidents related to the protests, without giving further details. He said the state of emergency applied in Santiago early on Saturday would be rolled out to Antofagasta, Valparaiso, Valdivia, Chillan, Talca, Temuco and Punta Arenas.
Later it was reported by the media that deaths occurred during the looting of several supermarkets and an arson attack on a garments factory.
There was transport deadlock in Santiago and chaos at the international airport on Sunday, where flights into and out of Santiago were suspended or canceled as crew members and airport staff were unable to get to work, the city’s governor said.
By mid-afternoon on Sunday, prosecutors said, 1,462 people had been charged in connection with that day’s protests, 614 of them in Santiago. That followed 179 arrests in Santiago on Saturday.
The military authorities mandated by president Piñera with reestablishing order in Santiago, on Sunday declared another night-time curfew in the capital as the government struggled to contain violent protests, looting and arson.
The general in charge of security in Santiago announced the curfew would begin at 7 p.m. (2200 GMT) on Sunday and end at 6 a.m. on Monday (0900 GMT).
Unrest has been brewing in Chile for some time since public utilities fares, mostly privatized companies, are linked to the US dollar, and the fall of the copper price has strongly depreciated the Chilean Peso. As a consequence the mismatch for common citizens has been significant, income in Pesos and fares adjusted to the dollar. Students were the first to protest the transport costs.–MercoPress