Thousands of protesters clashed with police Friday in Santiago in a fresh round of anti-government demonstrations that erupted more than two months ago in Chile.
The rally took place in the Plaza Italia, which has since October 18 become the epicenter of massive citizen protests against President Sebastian Pinera’s right-wing government.
Police entered the square in mid-afternoon and dispersed demonstrators with water cannon and tear gas. But after almost two hours of confrontations, thousands of protesters finally occupied the plaza, according to AFP reporters.
“We are going to continue in the struggle until Pinera gives in to the people’s demands,” said Luis Rojas, 46.
Authorities have been trying to restore calm in downtown Santiago, which has been roiled by a crisis that initially erupted over metro fare hikes but quickly escalated into the most severe outbreak of social unrest since the end of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet nearly 30 years ago.
Furious Chileans have taken to the streets to register their anger over inequality and particularly to vent at the elites that control much of the country’s wealth.
Monday’s demonstration occurred the same day Pinera signed a decree calling for a plebiscite on April 26 to decide whether to replace the current constitution, which dates back to Pinochet’s rule.
Many in Chile see replacing the constitution — which smacks of a dark, repressive chapter in the country’s past — as a way to help end the crisis.
A fire broke out in the Cine Arte Alameda during Monday’s protests — a traditional cultural center near the Plaza Italia that had operated for nearly three decades.
It has also housed medical personnel who came to the aid of wounded demonstrators as unrest has flared.
According to witnesses, the fire started after police threw tear gas bombs at the building. Authorities have not yet responded to the claims.
The flames were brought under control after almost an hour, but the center was almost completely destroyed, according to the deputy commander of the Santiago Fire Brigade.
The cinema owner reported that no workers were injured by the flames.
Image: AFP / CLAUDIO REYES Police used water cannon and tear gas to disperse demonstrators in Chile’s capital Santiago