Chile's shaken government makes concessions after protests

AP , Thursday 24 Oct 2019

Anti-government protesters march during a general strike in Santiago, Chile, Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019 (Photo: AP)

Chile's government made more economic concessions Thursday to try to curb a week of deadly protests over price increases and other grievances.

President Sebastian Pinera announced a freeze on a 9.2% rise in electricity prices until the end of next year, a day after large demonstrations and riots in the capital, Santiago.

Pinera said the measures aimed at easing public anger don't ``solve all the problems'' but are ``an important relief.''

At least 18 people have died in violence that began after a 4-cent increase in subway fares that the government said was needed to cope with rising oil prices and a weaker currency.

The protesters' agenda has expanded to include demands for improvements in education, health care and wages.

Earlier this week, the government announced increases in the minimum wage and the lowest state pensions. It also rolled back the subway fare increase, though some protesters have described the concessions as too little, too late.

Cabinet ministers will contact different sectors of society to hear ``the voice and message that Chileans have been sending to us in recent days,'' said Pinera, who added that the security situation was improving.

Most of the protests have been peaceful. But the unrest also involved riots, arson and looting, as well as accusations of brutality by security forces in a country known for its relative stability.

The sight of soldiers on Chile's streets stirred memories of Gen. Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship, when about 40,000 people were killed, tortured or imprisoned for political reasons.

In the past few days, millions of students were unable to attend classes, several subway stations were shut, and long lines wound from gas stations and supermarkets after many stores were torched or otherwise destroyed.

Many Chileans feel left out of the economic gains in the country of 18 million people. Education, medicine and water are costly, state pensions are low, and many families live on just $550 to $700 a month in earnings.

Residents in some parts of Santiago on Thursday cleaned up debris from the protests. But more demonstrations were expected.

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