Chilean President Sebastian Pinera yesterday ended a state of emergency that lasted more than a week amid mass protests, but demonstrations continued nonetheless.
The decision to lift the decree at midnight, just two days after more than 1 million people took to the country’s streets demanding economic and political change, comes after the equally unpopular week-long nighttime curfews ended on Saturday.
Authorities imposed the state of emergency and curfews after Chile was rocked by its worst civil unrest in decades. What originated as a student protest against a modest hike in metro fares quickly got out of control as demonstrations turned deadly.
A message on the presidency’s official Twitter account said the state of emergency, which had seen 20,000 soldiers and police deployed on the streets, would end “in all the regions and towns where it was established.”
This measure came a day after Pinera said he had “asked all ministers to resign in order to form a new government.”
“We are in a new reality,” Pinera said on Saturday. “Chile is different from what it was a week ago.”
However, demonstrations continued on Sunday as thousands of people marched to the seat of Congress in Valparaiso, 120km west of the capital, Santiago.
“The strength of the social movement that has taken over the streets has been its ... peaceful and constructive character,” Valparaiso Mayor Jorge Sharp said.
About 100,000 people participated in the march, which ended in isolated clashes between demonstrators and police, Sharp said.
The government has been struggling to craft an effective response to the protests and a growing list of economic and political demands that include Pinera’s resignation.
A group of about 1,000 cyclists stopped outside the presidential palace in Santiago on Sunday, chanting: “Listen up Pinera: Go to hell.”
About 15,000 people gathered peacefully in the capital’s O’Higgins Park, police said.
The breadth and ferocity of the demonstrations appeared to have blindsided the government of Chile — long one of Latin America’s richest and most stable countries. Demonstrators are angry at Chile’s social model, low salaries and pensions, high healthcare and education costs, and the gap between rich and poor.
Pinera, who assumed office for a second time in March last year, had already shuffled his Cabinet twice in 15 months as doubts grew about the nation’s slowing economy and his leadership.
He offered a raft of measures earlier this week aimed at calming the public ire, including an increased minimum wage and pensions, some reductions in healthcare costs and a streamlining of parliament.
“These measures aren’t enough, even though they’re an important step in the people’s demands,” said electrical engineer Eduardo Perez.
By Saturday afternoon, the military presence in Santiago had been already visibly reduced.
There were fears that continuing protests could put at risk the APEC trade summit in Santiago from Nov. 16, but the government said on Thursday that it would go ahead.
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