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AT LEAST three people died in a blaze at a supermarket in Santiago today as unrest over President Sebastian Pinera’s neoliberal reforms continued for a third successive day.
Two people died at the scene and another lost their life later in hospital, the capital’s mayor Karla Rubilar confirmed at a press conference.
Clashes continued after Mr Pinera imposed a state of emergency and a night curfew. Tanks and soldiers have been deployed on the streets of Chile as the government tries to regain control.
Protests were ignited after the president announced plans to introduce the second price hike on the Metro this year, a rise of 30 pesos (3p) that brings fares up to 830 pesos (90p) during rush hour.
Chile has some of the highest public transport fares in Latin America. The Santiago Metro is a private company which is partly operated by the state.
Chileans were angered when Economy Minister Juan Andres Fontaine said commuters should get up earlier and take advantage of cheaper fares between 6am to 7am.
Demonstrations centred on Santiago, but large protests were also reported in the cities of Concepcion, Rancagua, Punta Arenas, Valparaiso, Iquique, Antofagasta, Quillota and Talca.
On Friday, protesters jumped turnstiles in the Metro and refused to pay the fare in a “mass evasion” demonstration.
They were met with a violent response from the national police force. It fired tear gas and reportedly rubber bullets at protesters, many of whom are students.
The protests, which started 12 days ago, have since broadened into popular anger over Mr Pinera’s right-wing administration and Chile’s flagging economy.
Communist Party parliamentarian Boris Barrera slammed the state of emergency as “a resounding failure,” saying it shows that the government has “no political answers to popular demands” and has resorted to instruments of dictatorship.
On Saturday, Mr Pinera was forced to climb down, announcing on state television that the decree introducing the fare rises was being scrapped.
He met with business leaders and the heads of Chile’s senate and supreme court yesterday, promising to meet civil society organisations “within a week” to try to find a solution.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro sent a message of “solidarity to the noble Chilean people resisting the neoliberal political criminals” and called for an end to violent state repression.
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