SANTIAGO – Chile’s government has decreed a curfew in the South American nation’s capital and extended the ongoing state of emergency to other regions as demonstrators protesting the country’s inequality and rise in the cost of living continued to clash with police, while three people were killed in a man-made fire at a supermarket, officials said on Sunday.
Karla Rubilar, the governor of the capital Metropolitan Region, confirmed early on Sunday that three people died overnight after being engulfed by flames inside a supermarket in Santiago, whose population was under military curfew.
The curfew came into effect at 10 pm, less than 24 hours after authorities announced a state of emergency that saw thousands of troops being deployed throughout Santiago in a bid to quell the unrest sparked by the latest increase in the price of the city’s metro fare.
The defense ministry later announced it was deploying an additional 1,500 troops to the city, bringing the total number of soldiers up to 9,441 spread throughout the Metropolitan Region.
The emergency measures granting temporary military rule were extended to the coastal regions of Valparaiso – located some 150 kilometers (93 miles) to the west of Santiago – and Concepcion – about 600 km to the southwest of the capital – where massive student-led protests have also taken place.
Adm. Juan Andres de la Maza, who has been tasked by President Sebastian Piñera with quelling the unrest in Valparaiso and the neighboring city of Viña del Mar, said the curfew there would start taking effect at midnight.
Interior Minister Andres Chadwick later announced another curfew starting at 2 am affecting the province of Concepcion.
Major-Gen. Javier Iturriaga, who has taken command over the army’s security operation in the capital, said the curfews would last until 7 am on Sunday.
“Taking into account our legal obligation to protect people and their property, I’ve made the decision to decree the suspension of the personal freedom of movement through a total curfew,” he said.
The curfew implies that people in the affected parts of the so-called Metropolitan Region are compelled to remain in their houses during the nine hours that the measure is set to be in effect. Those who are forced to leave their residences for health or emergency reasons need to request a letter of safe-conduct from the nearest police station.
Anyone leaving or entering the country through Santiago’s international airport during the curfew is required to show authorities their plane ticket to avoid arrest.
The high-altitude border crossing between Chile and Argentina known as Los Libertadores – the main terrestrial link between the neighboring Andean nations – has been closed until the curfew is lifted.
Despite Piñera’s announcement that the controversial metro fare hike that prompted the uprising would be suspended, protesters – fueled by general discontent over social issues such as the pensions system, public education and electricity and gas prices, as well as rising healthcare costs – had continued to gather throughout the day in the capital and other Chilean cities such as Concepcion or Valparaiso.
Piñera said a law needed to be urgently passed to reverse the increase in the price of Santiago metro tickets – which had jumped to 830 pesos ($1.20) during peak hours – and implement policies to reduce the influence of fluctuations in the value of the United States dollar or oil prices on citizens’ cost of living.
Such a move, he said, would provide “a solution to the high cost of living, provide security, a drop in the price of medicines and greater guarantees within our healthcare system.”
Earlier on Saturday, thousands of residents of the capital had banged pots and pans or honked their car horns to signal their unhappiness with the government. After nightfall, however, small groups of radicals started lighting buses, subway stations and public furniture on fire and looting supermarkets, prompting security forces to respond with armored vehicles and live gunshots into the air in an attempt to disperse them.
The two main hotbeds of unrest were the Plaza Italia square in downtown Santiago – a site commonly used to stage big protests – and the Maipu commune.
Subway services have remained completely suspended since Friday.