Chileans clink in Santiago to mark the anniversary of the 2019 protests


© Reuters. Protest against the Chilean government during the one year anniversary of the protests and riots in Santiago in 2019


By Dave Sherwood

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Chileans gathered in the central square of the capital Santiago on Sunday, clattering pots, cheering and singing on the occasion of the one-year anniversary of the mass protests against inequality, which left more than 30 dead and thousands injured.

Protesters gathered early in the day for rallies in downtown and cities across Chile that grew in size and passion by early evening. Many advertised signs and colorful homemade banners demanded a "yes" vote next Sunday in a referendum on whether the country's constitution from the time of the dictatorship should be abolished, an important demand of the 2019 protests.

The protests, though largely peaceful from the start, were marred later in the day by sporadic cases of violence, looting and clashes with police across the city.

A communist party mayor of a neighborhood in Santiago was mocked and threatened during an early demonstration. Masked vandals later bombed a police station and church. More than 15 subway stations were temporarily closed during the riots.

Last year's demonstrations, which began on October 18, lasted until mid-December, when Chileans gathered across the country to demand reforms to the pension, health and education systems. Unrest and looting resulted in damage and losses running into billions of euros for the country's businesses and infrastructure. During the riots, the military took to the streets for the first time since the rule of dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Police estimated that the 6 p.m. rally on Sunday in Santiago drew around 25,000 people, far fewer than the largest protests of 2019.

In recent days, small protests and isolated cases of violence have resurfaced in Chile, as the 6 million inhabitants of the capital have emerged from months of imprisonment after the coronavirus pandemic.

Most of the protesters on Sunday wore masks, but many were seen in close groups, raising concerns about a possible health risk.

Center-right President Sebastian Pinera, whose popularity fell after the 2019 protests, met with members of his cabinet early in the day, but it wasn't clear whether or not he would address the nation.

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