SANTIAGO – Chileans took to the streets for a sixth day of protests on Wednesday, rejecting the social policy proposed by President Sebastian Piñera, with the death toll from the unrest standing at 18.
The mass protests started last Friday and quickly turned violent, paralyzing much of the country.
A large portion of Chile remains under a state of emergency, with nightly curfews in effect in different cities.
Questions have been raised about the role being played by the army in controlling the protests following the posting of numerous videos on social media showing soldiers allegedly committing abuses.
Wednesday’s protests have been peaceful so far, with demonstrators appearing to be in an almost festive mood.
These images are a far cry from last weekend, when the security forces clashed with protesters in the streets.
Demonstrators poured on Wednesday into Santiago’s downtown Plaza Italia and surrounding streets.
Protesters also marched on the main highway in the central city of Valparaiso; the pier in the northern city of Iquique; and the Plaza de Armas in the southern city of Curico, as well as other places around this South American nation.
Protesters took to the streets to show their opposition to the private pension system, the poorly funded health-care system and low wages, demanding change.
On Tuesday, Piñera announced plans to reform the pension, health-care and pharmaceutical systems, as well as the minimum wage and electricity rates, among other measures, after apologizing to citizens for not seeing their need.
Piñera said his social policy agenda also included higher taxes on the wealthy, the creation of a victims’ ombudsman, a reduction in the compensation of lawmakers and cuts in public servants’ salaries.
The president presented his proposals on national television toward the end of the fifth day of massive protests by people demanding a more equitable country.
The proposals, however, did not prevent people from taking to the streets once again on Wednesday in response to a call by unions and grassroots organizations for a national strike.
Officials have called for a return to normality and the Santiago Metro is offering partial service on three lines.
Schools and universities remain closed and commerce will be affected by the torching and destruction of more than 670 businesses in the past few days.
Other businesses are staying closed over fears of additional vandalism or just as a precaution.