Thousands of Chileans flooded the streets of Santiago and other cities Wednesday on day one of a general strike, upping the pressure on President Sebastien Pinera after days of social unrest that have left at least 18 dead.
Students, professors and state workers walked off the job at the urging of the country's largest union, ignoring a package of measures announced by Pinera aimed at quelling the violence.
"THE STRIKE IS ON! We say it loud and clear: enough of the increases and abuses," said the Workers' United Center of Chile (CUT), which organized the two-day action with about 20 other groups. In the capital Santiago, police used water cannons to dispel protesters. "Chile has awakened," read the sign of one protester.
The country, usually one of the most stable in Latin America, has experienced its worst violence in decades since protests against a now-scrapped hike in metro fares escalated dramatically on Friday. Demonstrators have decried social and economic woes, including a yawning gap between rich and poor.
A four-year-child and a man were killed in the latest protests when a drunk driver rammed into a crowd of demonstrators, Interior Undersecretary Rodrigo Ubilla said. A third person died after being beaten by police, according to the victim's family.
In an address to the nation late Tuesday, Pinera apologized for failing to anticipate the outbreak of social unrest. "I recognize this lack of vision," Pinera said after a meeting with some of Chile's opposition leaders.
Beyond the dead, another 269 people have been injured and about 1,900 have been arrested, according to the National Institute for Human Rights (INDH). (AFP News)
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