SANTIAGO – The state of emergency that has seen troops on the streets of the capital and other Chilean cities is set to end, President Sebastian Piñera said on Saturday.
“After talking with the armed forces and police, I want to announce to all my compatriots that if circumstances permit, it is my intention to lift all of the states of emergency as of 24:00 (midnight) Sunday,” he said from La Moneda palace.
Piñera’s statement followed announcements by the military commanders administering the states of emergency in Santiago, Coquimbo, La Serena and Concepcion that no curfews would be in effect in those jurisdictions on Saturday.
A day after some 1.2 million people – more than 5 percent of Chile’s population – gathered in Santiago to demand that he step down, the billionaire head of state also asked his Cabinet ministers to tender their resignations to make room for a new team.
“The march that all of us saw yesterday was a massive, joyous and peaceful march and one that opens great paths of the future and of hope. We have all heard the message,” Piñera said.
“Now we must join forces to provide genuine, urgent and responsible answers to those demands of all Chileans,” he said, pointing to a set of proposals he made earlier in the week aimed at boosting incomes and reducing the cost of living for workers and the middle class.
At the same time, the president denounced the “brutal and destructive violence” perpetrated by some opponents of the government and defended his decision to declare a state of emergency and deploy the army.
Friday’s rally in Santiago, which was the largest popular mobilization in Chile since the end of the Pinochet dictatorship in 1990, capped a week of sometimes violent protests against the austerity policies of the right-wing government.
Long-simmering discontent over growing economic inequality came to a boil last week after the Santiago metro raised fares to the equivalent of more than $1 a ride, a level that could have forced minimum-wage workers to spend up to a quarter of their monthly income on transportation.
Though Piñera moved quickly to rescind the fare increase, the protests continued, driven by anger over low pensions and salaries and the high cost of electricity, gas, university education and health care.
Incidents arising from the demonstrations have left 19 dead, including at least five people killed by police and soldiers, while 582 others have suffered injuries, more than half of them from the impact of rubber bullets or tear-gas canisters.
The National Human Rights Institute (INDH), an autonomous public agency that monitors the actions of security forces, put the number of arrests at 2,840 and said that it has verified reports of torture and other abuses by police and soldiers.
A United Nations mission will travel to Chile next week to investigate possible human rights violations during the protests. Michelle Bachelet, the current UN high commissioner for Human Rights, was Piñera’s predecessor as president.
“We are at war,” Piñera said on Oct. 19 when he declared the state of emergency and sent troops and tanks into the streets.
But in an address to the nation Tuesday night, the president apologized to Chileans for a “lack of vision” and unveiled a set of measures ranging from pension increases to the scrapping of a planned hike in electric rates.