Three people died in a fire in a supermarket being ransacked in the Chilean capital early Sunday, as protests sparked by anger over social and economic conditions rocked one of Latin America’s most stable countries.
Santiago’s Mayor Karla Rubilar told reporters two people burned to death in the blaze and another later died in hospital, after the huge store controlled by US retail chain Walmart was looted.
They were the first deaths in two days of violent unrest in which protesters have set buses on fire, burned metro stations and clashed with riot police in the city of seven million — despite a curfew imposed overnight until 07:00 Sunday.
Soldiers were deployed in the streets for the first time since Chile returned to democracy in 1990, following the rightwing Augusto Pinochet dictatorship.
The protests were triggered by an unpopular hike in metro fares, which President Sebastian Pinera announced Saturday he was suspending.
Pinera appealed to people taking to the streets, saying “there are good reasons to do so,” but calling on them “to demonstrate peacefully.” “Nobody has the right to act with brutal criminal violence,” he said.
But clashes later erupted in Plaza Italia, ground zero of Friday’s violence, and outside the presidential palace.
Protesters again set buses on fire in downtown Santiago, leading to the suspension of services.
“We’re sick and tired, enough already. We’re tired of them screwing around with us. Politicians only do what they want to do, and turn their backs on all reality,” said Javiera Alarcon, a 29-year-old sociologist protesting in front of the presidential palace, which was surrounded by police and military vehicles.
AFP video showed security forces blasting a crowd with water cannon, and riot police wrestling young protesters into vans.
“Having analyzed the situation and the appalling actions that occurred today, I have made the decision to suspend freedoms and movement through a total curfew,” said Army General Javier Iturriaga, who is overseeing security during the state of emergency.