Thousands of Chileans strike

Source:AFP Published: 2019/10/24 20:28:43

Students, professors, state workers walk off the job

Soldiers stand guard on the street in Santiago, Chile, Oct. 19, 2019. Photo:Xinhua


Thousands of Chileans flooded the streets of Santiago and other cities in a general strike on Wednesday, upping the pressure on beleaguered President Sebastien Pinera after days of social unrest that left 18 dead.

Students, professors and state workers walked off the job at the urging of the country's largest union, ignoring a package of measures announced by Pinera aimed at quelling the violence.

"The strike is on! We say it loud and clear: enough of the increases and abuses," said the Workers' United Center of Chile, which organized the two-day action alongside about 20 other groups.

"Chile has awakened," read the sign of one protester - a slogan that has been popular since the protests against social and economic woes, and a yawning gap between rich and poor, began last week.

The country has experienced its worst violence in decades since protests against a now-scrapped hike in metro fares escalated dramatically on October 18.

In an address to the nation late on Tuesday, Pinera apologized for failing to anticipate the outbreak of social unrest.

Beyond the dead, another 269 people have been injured and about 1,900 have been arrested, according to the National Institute for Human Rights.

Having initially taken a confrontational line, Pinera has rapidly changed tack and sought cross-party support to find a solution.

He says he will increase the universal basic pension by 20 percent, cancel a recent 9.2 percent increase in electricity bills and propose a law that would see the state cover the costs of expensive medical treatment.

He also pledged a state subsidy to increase the minimum wage from 301,000 pesos ($414) to 350,000 pesos a month and said the government would introduce health insurance for medications, which is among the most expensive in the region.

Chileans were unconvinced by the promises.

"It seems like a joke to me. Does he think with this the ­people will calm down?" protester Ximena Gutierrez told AFP.

"No, they won't calm down. This will continue because we won't be silenced!"


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