Chile military says 'nothing to hide' amid allegations of rights violations in riots

Reuters , Tuesday 22 Oct 2019

A demonstrator flutters a Chilean national flag during clashes with riot police
A demonstrator flutters a Chilean national flag during clashes with riot police for a fourth straight day as part of protests against a now suspended hike in metro ticket prices, in Santiago, Chile, on October 21, 2019. (Photo: AFP)

Chile's military said it would investigate allegations of human rights violations in days of riots, looting and protests throughout the country that have left 15 dead and led to the arrest of more than 2,600.

Ten cities have been placed in a state of emergency and under evening lockdown since riots broke out last Friday during protests at high living costs and inequality.

As pressure on the government mounted, center-right President Sebastian Pinera said he would meet with opposition leaders on Tuesday to forge a "new social contract."

Only minor incidents were reported into the early hours of Tuesday, the military said.

The general in charge of security in Santiago said he was nonetheless aware of videos circulating on social media suggesting brutality by police or the military in dealing with protesters and vandals.

"We are investigating every one of these situations. We're not going to hide anything," General Javier Iturriaga told reporters.

Later in the morning, interior ministry sub-secretary Rodrigo Ubilla declined to identify the 15 people killed since last Friday.

In a heated exchange with reporters, he said 11 people had died in arson attempts, looting and rioting in Santiago, while two people had died of gunshot wounds. Two others died in vehicle-related accidents, one outside of Santiago and one, further south, in the port city of Talcahuano.

The Talcahuano prosecutor said that case involved a 23-year-old man run over by a military vehicle.

The Chilean Institute for Human Rights said by Monday night it had registered 84 people injured by firearms.

Amnesty International on Tuesday said in an open letter to Pinera that it was concerned over human rights violations, and limitations imposed by the military during city-wide evening lockdowns.

"The sole fact that some groups or people have committed acts of violence in a protest does not authorize security forces to dissolve them with the use of force," Amnesty International Americas director Erika Guevara said.

U.N. human rights boss Michelle Bachelet, a former president of Chile, called on Monday for independent investigations into the deaths in weekend protests, citing "disturbing allegations" of excessive use of force by security forces.


The widespread protests sowed destruction across the city. Street cleaners and working parties of volunteers on Tuesday struggled to tidy and repair Santiago's central Plaza Italia, the focal point of much of the unrest, was littered with broken glass and stone, graffiti and still-smoldering fires.

Many downtown streets still reeked of tear gas, and the majority of schools across the city remained closed on Tuesday.

Traffic and public transportation were snarled across the city during the morning commute.

Roxana Yanez, 56, a factory worker, said she had had a difficult commute.

"On the one hand, we support these protests. We don't earn much, just enough to pay our bus fare," she said. "What we don't support is disorder, riots, looting. That doesn't help."

The protests were sparked by an increase in public transport fares in early October. But they reflect simmering anger over intense economic inequality in Chile, as well as costly health, education and pension systems seen by many as inadequate.

"This won’t stop until people see real change," said Brandon Rodriguez, 25, a security guard. "Governments of the left and right have come and gone...but nothing changes for ordinary people.”

The unrest has yet to dock copper output in Chile, the world's top producer, mining officials said.

Workers at BHP's Escondida copper mine, the world's largest, nonetheless initiated a 5-hour strike Tuesday morning, union officials told Reuters.

At Santiago's international airport, many passengers were stranded after hundreds of flights were canceled by major airlines over several days and airlines laid out camp beds on the airport forecourt to accommodate them.

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