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Violent Protests Rock The Chilean Capital Of Santiago


In Chile's capital, Santiago, people are fed up at what they call economic injustice. People protested in the streets over the weekend. There was some violence, and the city's public transit system sustained hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. Paige Sutherland brought us this from Santiago.


PAIGE SUTHERLAND, BYLINE: Chaos ruled in Santiago this weekend. Throughout the city, you could see clouds of smoke rising from fires. And you could hear the banging of pots and pans, a traditional form here of political protest. Cynthia Ibacache (ph) was one of hundreds of Chileans who gathered in the city center demanding change.

CYNTHIA IBACACHE: (Through interpreter) People are fed up with the abuse. It's too much. Families have to buy what they need for the week on credit because they don't make enough money to buy food. They have to pay for food on a three-month installment plan. It's not fair. It's not right to have to live like this.

SUTHERLAND: The 4% subway fare increase is the latest in a series of price hikes, including others for electricity, gas and water. The wages have not kept up. Protester Rodrigo Rollido (ph) says the government doesn't serve the people anymore.

RODRIGO ROLLIDO: (Through interpreter) The government needs to listen to the people. Don't just think about businesses or capital. People are unhappy. They can't even afford to get to work.

SUTHERLAND: A state of emergency was put in place late Friday. President Sebastian Pinera handed responsibility for security to the military. This was the first time such a declaration has been made since 1973 at the start of General Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship. Following the decision to call out the military, the violence increased and spread to other cities in Chile. The military responded by using tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets.


SUTHERLAND: Nearly 900 people have been arrested and dozens injured. Three people died while trapped inside a supermarket that had been looted and set on fire. Santiago Governor Karla Rubilar yesterday warned residents, today would be difficult.


KARLA RUBILAR: (Through interpreter) The city will not return to normal. We will not have the public transportation as we would like. Our subway is destroyed.

SUTHERLAND: In a nationally televised news conference, President Pinera promised that he intends to change.


PRESIDENT SEBASTIAN PINERA: (Through interpreter) To put it frankly, I've listened with much humility and with great attention to the voices of my countrymen, and I will not be afraid to continue listening to the voices. So I want to announce today that we are going to suspend the increase of the metro fares.

SUTHERLAND: But reversing the fare hikes will require a change in the law. That's why the president has said he will be meeting with lawmakers all this week. For now, classes have been canceled, nighttime curfews are in effect in Chile's major cities, and thousands of soldiers are patrolling the streets in anticipation of the protests that are expected to continue.

For NPR News, I'm Paige Sutherland in Santiago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.