Chile former interior minister to face censure vote in Congress over rights abuses

SANTIAGO, Dec 11 (Reuters) - Chile's Senate began to vote Wednesday on whether to strip a former interior minister of his right to hold public office over allegations he failed to prevent abuses by security forces during days of violent protests.

Andres Chadwick, a cousin and close confidant of center-right President Sebastian Pinera, was ousted by the president shortly after protests began in October, part of a cabinet reshuffle designed to quell increasingly violent riots.

Opposition lawmakers in Chile's lower house nonetheless moved to censure Chadwick in late November for his alleged role in human rights abuses during the first, and most violent, week of unrest.

Nearly two months of protests over inequality and social injustice have since left at least 26 dead, billions in damages and thousands of injuries in the once-stable South American nation.

International rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have ratcheted up pressure on President Sebastian Pinera's administration for its handling of the crisis, citing abuses by police ranging from rape to torture.

If the censure motion is approved by a majority of senators on Wednesday, Chadwick would be forbidden from serving in public office for five years.

Chadwick, himself a former lawmaker, told many of his former colleagues in the Senate late Tuesday he was innocent of the charges.

"Never in my time as interior minister have I taken any action or measure, deliberate or otherwise, to permit the abuse of the human rights of any individual," Chadwick said.

The lower house of Congress will begin a debate to impeach Pinera over similar charges on Thursday.

Pinera has acknowledged some abuses by security forces and promised investigations and deep reforms to police protocols. But both Pinera and his ministers have repeatedly denied that they deliberately facilitated the violations. (Reporting by Dave Sherwood and Natalia Ramos; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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