President announces order in televised address after fare-dodging protest by students in capital widens
A state of emergency has been declared in the Chilean capital after simmering protests against a rise in metro fares spilled out into widespread vandalism and violence fuelled by rising cost-of-living pressures.
As ordained by Chiles dictatorship-era constitution, the state of emergency will apply to Santiago and can last for 15 days. It grants the government additional powers to restrict citizens freedom of movement and their right to assembly. Ominously, soldiers will return to the streets for the first time since an earthquake devastated parts of the country in 2010.
The aim is to ensure public order and the safety of public and private property, President Sebastin Piera said in a televised address, There will be no room for violence in a country with the rule of law at its core.
On Friday evening, the palm trees in Santiagos colonial Plaza de Armas were shrouded in plumes of tear gas thrown by police agents to disperse protesters, and the headquarters of Italian energy company Enel were engulfed in orange flames as the sounds of helicopters and wailing sirens filled the night sky.
Adding to the cacophony was the noise of pots and pans being banged together on balconies, a traditional cacerolazo protest.
Patricia Muoz, Chiles ombudsperson for the rights of minors, said: We are incredibly concerned for the safety of those young people involved in violent confrontations with the police, but the information we are getting from the authorities is one-sided.
Earlier, Chiles interior minister, Andrs Chadwick, gave a brief address outside the nearby presidential palace, La Moneda, in which he confirmed that the government would apply the State Security Law. The legislation which separate to the state of emergency hands special powers of prosecution to authorities and has been used most frequently in relation to the Mapuche conflict since Chiles return to democracy in 1990.