In Summary
  • In an address to the nation late Tuesday, Pinera apologized for failing to anticipate the outbreak of social unrest.
  • The country, usually one of the most stable in Latin America, has experienced its worst violence in decades.
  • Chile's big business conglomerates are one of the major factors in the huge wealth disparity that has angered protesters.
  • Having initially taken a confrontational line, Pinera has rapidly changed tack and sought cross-party support to find a solution.

Santiago

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.

VIOLENT PROTESTS

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).

PRESIDENT PROMISES

Having initially taken a confrontational line -- declaring that Chile was "at war against a powerful, implacable enemy," and imposing a state of emergency in Santiago and most of Chile's 16 regions -- Pinera has rapidly changed tack and sought cross-party support to find a solution.

He says he will increase the universal basic pension by 20 percent, cancel a recent 9.2 percent increase in electricity bills and propose a law that would see the state cover the costs of expensive medical treatment.

He also pledged a state subsidy to increase the minimum wage from 301,000 to 350,000 pesos (Sh49,742)) a month and said the government would introduce health insurance for medication, which is among the most expensive in the region.

UNCONVINCED PUBLIC

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