Churches burned as thousands mark Chile protest movement anniversary

Elias Hubbard
October 20, 2020

Tens of thousands of people participated in a large concentration on Sunday, which took place peacefully for hours in the Plaza de la Dignidad (Baquedano), in the capital, one year after the outbreak of social protests in October 18th, 2019.

But as the afternoon wore on, clashes broke out on the periphery of the square, more than 300 meters from the main, peaceful, demonstration.

The demonstrations, while largely peaceful early on, were marred by increasing incidents of violence, looting of supermarkets and clashes with police across the capital later in the day. "Let it fall, let it fall", shouted some hooded men, while the dome of the church, known as the "parish of the artists", was consumed in the fire. The building dated back to 1876.

Numerous protests have demanded rewriting the constitution; the bishops have encouraged citizen participation in the demonstrations.

Firefighters managed to get that blaze under control.

The communist mayor of a neighborhood near the central square, Daniel Jadue, was hounded out of Plaza Italia by protesters.

And as the violence resurfaced late on Sunday evening, Chile's Interior Minister Victor Perez praised the peaceful rallies while blasting the late-night mayhem.

Authorities said the church caught fire after reportedly being attacked by protesters.

'The people of Chile need to unite, and we have to believe that we can do things'. It is to help more than 14.7 million Chileans decide whether to change the Constitution enacted during the country's military dictatorship, which remains a legacy of the Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) regime.

"This is the opportunity to say 'enough!' We're here and we're going to vote for 'Approve, '" Paulina Villarroel, a 29-year-old psychologist, told AFP.

However, the demonstrations have developed into a movement with people expressing their dissatisfaction with the rising cost of living, pension reform, and police conduct during protests amid calls for Chilean President Sebastian Pinera to resign.

He instead called on Chileans to settle their differences by voting in the upcoming referendum on October 25.

Analysts fear that the anniversary of the 2019 protests will unleash a new wave of unrest that came to a halt in March due to the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in the country.

For those supporting a yes vote - notably the leftist opposition - a new constitution would allow for the establishment of a new and fairer social order in one of the Latin American countries most marked by economic and other forms of inequality.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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