Violent rallies in Chile raise fears over referendum vote
Marking the one-year anniversary of mass protests that have left more than 30 people dead and thousands injured, tens of thousands of Chileans gathered in the central square of Santiago in a mostly peaceful rally. But the rally deteriorated and turned into riots and looting after night fell.
Earlier in the day, people gathered in demonstrations in cities throughout Chile – many carrying signs and rainbow-coloured banners calling for a “yes” vote next Sunday. On Sunday, the country will vote in a referendum about whether to scrap the country’s dictatorship-ear Consitution, a key demand of the 2019 protests.
As night fell, the demonstrations – which had been largely peaceful – saw increasing incidents of violence, looting of supermarkets and clashes with police across the capital. Firetruck sires, burning barricades on roadways and fireworks on city-centre streets added to a sense of chaos in some areas.
Interior Minister Victor Perez condemned the late-night chaos, whilst praising the early, peaceful rallies. He called on the people to settle their differences by voting on Sunday, October 25.
“Those who carry out these acts of violence do not want Chileans to solve our problems through democratic means,” Pere told reporters, promising to punish those who crossed the line on Sunday.
Earlier in the day, an angry group threatened a Communist Party mayor. Later, masked individuals firebombed a police headquarters and church. Another Santiago church was attacked in the early evening, setting fire to its spire and filling the streets with smoke.
More than 15 metro stations were temporarily closed amid the unrest. Police used tear gas and water cannon in
Al Jazeera’s Lucia Newman said the appearance of what she described as “masked vandals” raised concerns about the referendum.
“There are people who are afraid, especially leaders in the opposition, that this sort of thing could stop people from going out to vote next week,” she said.
Last year’s protests began October 18 and continued until mid-December. Chileans gathered nationwide to call for reforms to the country’s pension, healthcare and education systems.
Rioting and looting resulted in billions of dollars in damage and the unrest saw the military take to the streets for the first time since the rule of dictator Augusto Pinochet.
Police estimated that Sunday’s rally in Santiago attracted around 25,000 people by 6 pm — far smaller than the largest protests of 2019.
Over the last few days, small-scale demonstrations and isolated incidents of violence have nonetheless resurfaced in Chile, as the capital’s six million citizens emerge from months of confinement as a result of the pandemic.
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