SANTIAGO – Heavy clashes between protesters and Chilean police took place on Friday in the center of Santiago during a protest demanding the resignation of President Sebastian Piñera and the release of prisoners arrested during last year’s social crisis.
Following an appeal on social networks to join the “the last great march of the year,” dozens of people gathered at the emblematic Plaza Italia – epicenter of last year’s social unrest – and moved towards the La Moneda presidential palace.
A large contingent of armed police blocked the march with water cannons and teargas, while some protesters threw stones and other solid objects.
In late 2019, Chile witnessed its worst social crisis since the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), which began with protests against a hike in metro fares and soon turned into a revolt demanding a more just economic system and social rights.
The protests, which attracted massive attendance during the first few months, led to more than 30 people being killed and thousands injured in episodes of violence, which also included fires, looting and destruction of public property.
The demonstrations paused during a prolonged COVID-19 pandemic-induced lockdown in Santiago.
After a historic plebiscite in October, in which 80 percent of Chileans voted for changing the dictatorship-era constitution, protesters have now demanded Piñera’s resignation and the release of political prisoners.
According to official data, prosecutors have charged a total of 5,084 people for various crimes committed during the protests, out of which 648 are in preventive custody while 725 have already been sentenced.
Moreover, there are more than 4,600 ongoing cases against security forces for alleged human rights violations while dispersing the protests, but only 75 officers have been indicted.
Piñera said on Monday that he would block a bill brought by members of the opposition that seeks to pardon the detainees, who in many cases have spent more than a year under preventive arrest.