SANTIAGO – The death toll of riots in Chile rose to at least eight on Sunday after firefighters confirmed five people died in a clothing store fire in the capital’s Renca commune.
The store caught fire after being looted during rioting in Santiago, which broke out Friday over social inequality and scarcities but was sparked by complaints about the government’s hiking of local metro fares.
“We are at war with a powerful and relentless enemy that respects nothing and no one, and is willing to use violence without any limit even if it means the loss of human lives, for the sole purpose of producing as much damage as possible,” Chilean President Sebastian Piñera said at a Sunday press conference.
The Chilean lower house of congress approved a bill eliminating the metro fair price hike Sunday evening. The bill passed in a 103-1 vote, with one abstention, and will now be forwarded to the Senate for ratification Monday.
Piñera submitted the bill on an urgent basis with an eye toward ending the violent protests that have beset the country over the past few days.
“They are at war against all Chileans who want to live in democracy,” he said of the protesters.
The president said he understood citizens were demonstrating about their concerns, but called people behind the arsons, barricades and looting “real criminals,” and urged the people and all political forces to stand against this violence.
He said authorities had made a huge effort to ensure Monday was “as normal a day as possible,” with the operation of one of the metro lines, and called for solidarity among Chileans to help one another with transport when necessary.
Earlier Sunday, violence continued in the capital and elsewhere with heavy clashes between protesters and security forces, looting, fires and pillaging.
Authorities had confirmed Saturday afternoon the death of three people after finding a body in a supermarket that was torched earlier in the day in Santiago – the latest fatality after two others died under similar circumstances.
That third body was found amid the ruins of a store on Matucana Street in Santiago, while the other two were found in a supermarket in the capital’s San Bernardo commune, an area rioters looted and burned.
Two people were seriously injured by gunfire Sunday morning at a military checkpoint in the Santiago neighborhood of Puente Alto, Chilean Interior Minister Andres Chadwick said.
Chadwick told reporters that some “50 violent events” occurred in the Metro Region, along with 53 other such incidents Saturday night and Sunday morning elsewhere in the country.
In addition, he said 62 Carabineros officers – Chile’s militarized police – and 15 civilians were injured during weekend clashes.
The minister said police arrested 244 people Saturday night and Sunday morning that were violating the curfew imposed in three of the country’s regions.
Health Minister Jaime Manalich said 32 people are hospitalized in the Metro Region, 10 of them in serious condition, and that 208 people were given medical care for assorted lesser injuries.
Manalich confirmed a Colombian citizen died from a bullet wound, although he said circumstances surrounding that death have not been clarified.
Meanwhile, Maj.-Gen. Javier Iturriaga, in charge of security in the Metro Region during the state of emergency decreed by the government, told reporters that Saturday night was “very unpleasant and disturbed” with vandalism and “a lot of looting” taking place.
He went on to declare another curfew in Santiago from 10 pm Sunday to 6 am Monday “to protect the lives of everyone,” in light of the weekend protests.
“We’re hoping it’s a calm day. I hope that it won’t be necessary to declare another curfew,” Iturriaga had said earlier, adding that 3,000 soldiers had been mobilized to control the situation in the Metro Region together with some 5,000 Carabineros and police.
The state of emergency has been in place in five Chilean regions since Saturday morning: almost the entire capital, Valparaiso, Concepcion, the communes of Coquimbo and La Serena in the Coquimbo region, and in the Rancagua commune since Sunday morning.
In addition, a curfew was decreed in Santiago, Valparaiso and Concepcion, as well as in La Serena, Coquimbo and Valdivia, and authorities have announced it will continue in those cities between 10 pm and 6 am.
More than 20,000 homes reportedly had no electricity in the Metro Region and a significant amount of debris was said to be littering the streets where security forces clashed with protesters.
The Santiago subway remained closed Sunday, but city buses were operating normally. Additionally, more than 90 domestic and international flights to and from the capital airport were canceled, leaving some 5,000 people stranded Sunday morning.
The deployment of troops at various spots countrywide was ordered to try and control the riots resulting from the radicalization last Friday of protests over a hike in metro prices, the tip of the iceberg in a society marred by scarcities, the high cost of living and inequality.