Violent Protests Erupt in Chile Over Social Inequality
- Massive protests have broken out all over Chile, leaving at least 11 dead and 1,500 arrested.
- The protests started over a transit fare hike, but have evolved to address broader economic issues such as rising costs for the poor and middle class.
- The Chilean president declared a state of emergency and deployed the military, marking the first time anyone has done so since the dictatorship ended in 1990.
Protests Break Out
Large protests all over Chile rocked the country over the weekend, prompting President Sebastián Piñera to declare a state of emergency in numerous cities.
The protests started last Monday when hundreds of students swarmed several subway stations in the capital Santiago to hop turnstiles in protest of a transit fare hike.
The hike, which went into effect Oct. 6, followed other fare increases earlier this year.
While the protests started over fares, they quickly became about broader economic issues in the country.
Chile has become one of the wealthiest countries in South America, but it is also one of the most unequal economically. For poor and middle-class families, the cost of living has been rising while wages have remained the same.
Protestors are also blaming rising costs in part on widespread privatization policies. Healthcare, education, and many utilities have seen rising costs. Meanwhile, low wages have caused pension payouts to remain low because of poor contributions.
High prices for gas and electricity have also caused transportation costs to rise, which is significant because one of the highest costs for middle and low-income individuals is transportation.
According to The New York Times, for a person making an average monthly salary, about a fifth of that is spent on transportation costs.
Meanwhile, Piñera has an estimated net worth of $2.8 billion according to Forbes.
By Friday, the protests had escalated, with students damaging turnstiles, smashing glass, and vandalizing stations.
Videos also showed them throwing large objects like sheet metal onto subway tracks, and it was also reported that they set fires and barricades at metro station entrances. Subway services were canceled entirely all across Santiago.
The protests began to shift to the streets, with demonstrators setting fires and looting stores. Riot police reportedly responded by using tear gas and hitting protestors with batons, while armored military vehicles used water cannons to push demonstrators back.
Piñera addressed the violence late Friday by imposing a curfew and a state of emergency in Santiago, placing the military in charge of security in the city.
That declaration marked the first time that the military had been deployed to the streets for nearly 30 years, since the end of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in 1990.
During the nearly 17-year-long regime, a military junta patrolled the streets and committed mass human rights abuses, arresting, kidnapping, torturing, and murdering dissidents and others, many of whom were labeled “disappeared” by the government.
Piñera’s declaration prompted many to draw comparisons to military rule under Pinochet. However, the demonstrations still continued Saturday, with the protests spreading to several other cities across the country.
On Saturday night, Piñera announced that he was suspending the fare increase.
“I have listened with humility and with great attention to the voice of my compatriots,” he said in a televised statement.
That did not stop the protestors, who continued Sunday.
Some protests remained peaceful, with demonstrators banging on pots and pans and waving pictures of people who had been disappeared during the dictatorship.
Others, however, engaged in more violent tactics, continuing to set fires and loot stores. Police also continued to respond by firing tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets at protestors.
Shops and offices were forced to close, and flights were canceled or delayed at Santiago international airport.
As of Sunday night, 11 people had been killed in the violence. According to reports three people were killed on Saturday, while eight people were killed in fires on Sunday. Many more civilians and police have been injured.
The government has also claimed that 1,500 people have been arrested, which is significant because Piñera has said he will invoke the State Security Law to prosecute people involved in the attacks on the subways. That law carries prison sentences of three to five years.
On Sunday night, the state of emergency was extended to five other cities, and Piñera said he would extend it to more on Monday.
While speaking during a televised address Piñera said, “We are at war against a powerful enemy, who is willing to use violence without any limits.”
Those words angered many Chileans for two main reasons. First, they echoed a similar declaration made by Pinochet. Second, labeling protestors as criminals shows them that he does not actually care about their concerns, which go way beyond the fare hike.
Now, many are speculating his words will just further feed the flames.
With Santiago still in a state of emergency, a lot of the city still remained shut down with schools closed on Monday.
Also on Monday, Chilean authorities attempted to clear the wreckage and re-open public transportation. Protesters, meanwhile, have called for a general strike to take place.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (BBC) (VICE)
95-Year-Old Woman Dies After Police Tases Her in Nursing Home
The officer involved was suspended with pay and charged with assault.
A 95-year-old Australian woman whom police tasered in a nursing home last week has reportedly died from her injuries.
Clare Nowland, who had dementia and required a walking frame to stand up and move, was living at the Yallambee Lodge in Cooma in southeastern Australia.
At about 4:15 a.m. on May 17, police and paramedics responded to a report of a woman standing outside her room with a steak knife.
They encountered Nowland, then reportedly tried to negotiate with her for several minutes, but she didn’t drop the knife.
The five-foot-two, 95-pound woman walked toward the two officers “at a slow pace,” police said at a news conference, so one of them tasered her.
She fell to the floor and reportedly suffered a fractured skull and a severe brain bleed, causing her to be hospitalized in critical condition.
Nowland passed away in a hospital surrounded by her family, the New South Wales police confirmed in a statement today.
After a week-long investigation, the police force also said that the senior constable involved would appear in court next week to face charges of recklessly causing grievous bodily harm, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and common assault.
NSW police procedure states that tasers should not be used against elderly or disabled people absent exceptional circumstances.
Following the incident, community members, activists, and disability rights advocates expressed bewilderment and anger at what they called an unnecessary use of force, and some are now questioning why law enforcement took so long to prosecute the officer involved.
See what others are saying: (Reuters) (The New York Times) (CNN)
U.K. Police Face Backlash After Arresting Anti-Monarchy Protesters
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said that some of the arrests “raise questions” and “investigations are ongoing.”
The Public Order Act
A controversial protest crackdown law in the U.K. is facing criticism after dozens of anti-monarchy protesters were arrested during the coronation ceremony in London over the weekend.
The law, dubbed the “Public Order Act” was passed roughly a week ahead of the coronation for King Charles III. It gives police more power to restrict protesters and limits the tactics protesters can use in public spaces. It was condemned by human rights groups upon its passing, and is facing a new round of heat after 52 people were arrested over coronation protests on Saturday.
In a statement, the Metropolitan Police said protesters were arrested for public order offenses, breach of the peace and conspiracy to cause a public nuisance. The group said it gave advance warning that its “tolerance for any disruption, whether through protest or otherwise, will be low and that we would deal robustly with anyone intent on undermining the celebration.”
It is currently unclear how many of those arrested were detained specifically for violating the Public Order Act, however, some of those arrested believe the new law was used against them.
“Make no mistake. There is no longer a right to peaceful protest in the UK,” Graham Smith, the CEO of anti-monarchy group Republic tweeted after getting arrested. “I have been told many times the monarch is there to defend our freedoms. Now our freedoms are under attack in his name.”
An Attempt to “Diminish” Protests
During a BBC Radio interview, Smith also said he believes the dozens of arrests were premeditated.
“There was nothing that we did do that could possibly justify even being detained and arrested and held,” Smith claimed.
“The whole thing was a deliberate attempt to disrupt and diminish our protest.”
Yasmine Ahmed, the U.K. Director of Human Rights Watch, also tweeted that the arrests were “disgraceful.”
“These are scenes you’d expect to see in Russia not the UK,” she wrote.
When asked about the controversy, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told reporters officers should do “what they think is best” in an apparent show of support for the Metropolitan Police.
For his part, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he is looking into the matter.
“Some of the arrests made by police as part of the Coronation event raise questions and whilst investigations are ongoing, I’ve sought urgent clarity from Met leaders on the action taken,” Khan tweeted.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (CNN) (The Washington Post)
Foreign Nationals Make Mad Dash out of Sudan as Conflict Rages
The conflict’s death toll has surpassed 420, with nearly 4,000 people wounded.
As the 10-day-long power struggle between rival generals tore Sudan apart, foreign governments with citizens in the country scrambled to evacuate them over the weekend.
On Sunday, U.S. special forces landed in the capital Khartoum and carried out nearly 100 American diplomats along with their families and some foreign nationals on helicopters.
An estimated 16,000 Americans, however, remain in the country and U.S. officials said in a statement that a broader evacuation mission would be too dangerous.
Christopher Maier, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity warfare, said in a statement that the Pentagon may assist U.S. citizens find safe routes out of Sudan.
“[The Defense Department] is at present considering actions that may include use of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to be able to observe routes and detect threats,” he said.
Germany and France also reportedly pulled around 700 people out of the country.
More countries followed with similar efforts, including the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Canada, China, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Indonesia.
Yesterday, a convoy carrying some 700 United Nations, NGO, and embassy staff drove to Port Sudan, a popular extraction point now that the airport in Khartoum has closed due to fighting.
Reports of gunmen prowling the capital streets and robbing people trying to escape, as well as looters breaking into abandoned homes and shops, have persuaded most residents to stay indoors.
Heavy gunfire, airstrikes, and artillery shelling have terrorized the city despite several proposed ceasefires.
Over the weekend, the reported death toll topped 420, with nearly 4,000 people injured, though both numbers are likely to be undercounted.