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CHILE’S opposition has reacted angrily to billionaire President Sebastian Pinera’s announcement of new police powers and harsher sentences for “vandalism” in the wake of weeks of protests against his neoliberal government.
Despite adopting a conciliatory tone last week after 1.2 million people marched in the capital, Santiago, against his government’s brutal suppression of demonstrations that began in response to a rise in Metro fares, Mr Pinera said on Thursday that he would boost “aerial surveillance and police intelligence” and pass legislation through Congress bringing in longer penalties for looting and destruction of property.
This would help “Chile overcome these difficult three weeks and restore social peace, unity and progress,” he declared.
The announcement marks a return to repression following his concessions last week, which included offering the resignations of all his ministers and insisting that he had “listened” to protesters and “changed.”
Mr Pinera had previously described his country as facing a “war” against a “powerful, relentless enemy” and enraged demonstrators by claiming that their protests were masterminded by the Venezuelan government.
Protests and clashes between demonstrators and police continued on Thursday and yesterday across Chile. In Santiago, Health Minister Jaime Manalich was chased from a hospital he tried to visit by angry medical workers who said that spending cuts meant they lacked the supplies to care for demonstrators wounded by the police.
And women from a range of political parties called out Women’s Minister Isabel Pla for double standards after she condemned an attack on two female police officers, despite having failed to make any statement on the dozens of reported incidents of “rape, touching, threats of rape and sexual abuse, beatings and undressing” of female protesters by police.
A letter to the minister organised by Communist Party of Chile women’s officer Natalia Cuevas slammed “mass repression of Chileans, demonstrators killed by agents of the state, people injured by bullets, people losing eyes, torture and humiliation of detainees, children and adolescents detained.”
The letter was signed by over 100 women from parties including the Communists, Socialists, Radicals, the Democracy Party and more, with author Isabel Allende and Communist deputy Camila Vallejo among the signatories.
It “strongly condemned the attack on two policewomen yesterday … however we regret that you, as the minister responsible for watching over women’s rights, have not issued a single word on behalf of women who have been victims of human rights violations by state agents.”
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