15 dead as Chile protests cross fortnight

Santiago: Thousands of people in Chile took to the streets again for the 15th consecutive day to protest against the government amid emergency decrees and new curfews in several parts of the country.

In Santiago, thousands of demonstrators began arriving at the Plaza Italia on Tuesday, the epicenter of the protests in the capital, although during the early morning hours things remained calm, Efe news reported.

As the day wore on, however, the demonstrators flooded into the area amid a heavy military presence, the troops being deployed since Friday in the capital and in cities in the metropolitan region.

Besides those who came to the plaza, a huge column of people moved along Bernardo O’Higgins Avenue to join those who were already congregating there.

The Carabineros – Chile’s militarized police – deployed their Special Forces unit, along with armored vehicles mounting water cannons and tear gas mortars, and used riot control measures to try and disperse the crowds.

Amid the heavy doses of tear gas, people’s eyes and noses were tearing up and stinging throughout the area.

With the new tear gas laid down by the authorities, the demonstrators once again retreated into nearby areas, but they returned shortly thereafter when the gas clouds dissipated and refuse to leave the vicinity entirely.

Besides the new protests on the Plaza Italia, in the eastern neighborhood of La Condes, local residents gathered along Apoquindo Avenue to join the protests carrying pots and pans which they banged, creating a huge racket.

For another day, the residents of the Eueoa neighborhood hit the streets by the hundreds to stage peaceful, but strident, protests.

Elsewhere, in Valparaiso protests also erupted and demonstrators clashed with the police.

In the southern city of Concepcion, a huge march made its way through the streets of the Biobio regional capital, which along with Valparaiso and Santiago has been the main focus of the disturbances, fires and looting, as a result of which the government declared a state of emergency and a nighttime curfew.

So far, the official death toll in the recent protests and violence stands at 15 – 11 of them during looting, three in clashes with the police and one person who was run over by a Navy truck.

Authorities have confirmed that among the dead are two Colombian citizens and one Ecuadorian.

Since the protests began, at least 2,643 people have been arrested.

The government’s hike in Santiago Metro fares unleashed a wave of protests that over the past two weeks have awakened the ire of the public at the high costs for public services, the inadequate pension system and deficiencies in the public health system, all of this combining into a social outburst that has been unprecedented in Chile’s recent history.

The government has responded by declaring a state of emergency in almost all portions of the country, placing security into the hands of the army and implementing curfews.