Chile President declares state emergency in Santiago

Chile President declares state emergency in Santiago

A protester kicks a tear gas canister during clashes with police in Santiago, Chile, October 20, 2019.

Black-hooded protesters enraged by recent fare hikes on public transportation lit fires at several metro stations, looted shops, burned a public bus and swung metal pipes at train station turnstiles during Friday's afternoon commute, according to witnesses, social media and television footage. Looters stormed into supermarkets, stores and pharmacies. The Santiago Metro Office announced the suspension of the metro on Saturday and Sunday.

On Thursday, 133 people had been arrested for causing damage to metro stations, estimated at up to 500 million pesos ($700,000).

Piñera said in a national broadcast from the presidential palace in Santiago that he had listened "with humility" to "the voice of my compatriots" and to discontent over the cost of living in one of Latin America's wealthiest yet most unequal nations. "Using the powers granted to me by the Constitution and the law, I introduced a state of emergency for the provinces of Santiago and Chacabuco and the communes of Puente Alto and San Bernardo", said Pinera.

The protests were triggered by an unpopular hike in metro fares, which President Sebastian Pinera announced Saturday he was suspending.

The sight of military tanks and troops roaming through the streets after Piñera's announcement was jarring for many Chileans, given the country's 17-year military dictatorship, during which the armed forces committed rampant human rights abuses. General Iturriaga said the military would patrol major trouble spots in the city of seven million but would not impose a curfew at present. Average monthly salary is $807, about a fifth of which is spent on transportation.

The government has also said it will apply the State Security Law, which is separate to the state of the emergency.

Metro officials say the fare price was raised because of a devaluation of the currency, rising fuel costs and the need for maintenance.

Metro management said there had been more than 200 incidents on Santiago's subway system in the previous 11 days, mostly involving school children and older students jumping barriers and forcing gates. Hundreds if not thousands of people were left stranded on the streets. Many commuters had no choice but to walk home.

Here and in other cities, people banged together pots and frying pans - a typically Latin American form of protest.

By nightfall, the protests had extended throughout Santiago, with students setting up barricades at the entrances to subway stations.

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