October 20, 2019 / 1:46 PM / a month ago

Chile's Pinera extends state of emergency, says 'we are at war'

By Aislinn Laing and Natalia A. Ramos Miranda

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile’s government will extend a state of emergency to cities in its north and south, President Sebastian Pinera said late on Sunday, after at least seven people were killed amid violent clashes and arson attacks over the weekend.

“We are at war against a powerful enemy, who is willing to use violence without any limits,” Pinera said in a late-night televised statement at army headquarters in Santiago.

He confirmed the state of emergency he declared for Santiago on Saturday night, which brought the military onto the streets, would be extended to the north and south of the capital.

Protests led by students began two weeks ago over fare hikes on public transport.

Pinera said Santiago´s metro and bus system would operate a partial service on Monday, along with hospitals and some schools and crèches, and appealed for Chileans to band together and help their neighbors to get on with their lives and remain safe.

“Tomorrow we will have a difficult day,” he said. “We are very aware that (the perpetrators of riots) have a degree of organization, logistics, typical of a criminal organization,” he said.

“Today is not the time for ambiguities. I call on all my compatriots to unite in this battle against violence and delinquency,” he said.

Interior Minister Andres Chadwick told news conference in Santiago earlier on Sunday night that the decision to extend the emergency measure came amid an “escalation of violence and vandalism.”

He cited 70 “serious incidents of violence” on Sunday, including the looting of 40 supermarkets and other businesses. Chadwick said military and police numbers were at 10,500 in Santiago and would be reinforced where necessary.

Demonstrators stand next to a burning barricade as increase in public transport prompted Chile's President Sebastian Pinera to declare a state of emergency, in Concepcion, Chile October 20, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Saavedra

Santiago and other Chilean cities have been engulfed by several days of riots, along with peaceful protests, after the increase in public transport costs. The violence prompted Pinera to reverse the move and declare a state of emergency.

Chadwick said seven people had been killed in incidents related to the protests, without giving further details.

He said the state of emergency applied in Santiago early on Saturday would be rolled out to Antofagasta, Valparaiso, Valdivia, Chillan, Talca, Temuco and Punta Arenas.

There was transport deadlock in Santiago and chaos at the international airport on Sunday, where flights into and out of the capital were suspended or canceled because crew members and airport staff were unable to get to work, the city’s governor said.

Prosecutors said 1,462 people had been charged by mid-afternoon on Sunday in connection with that day’s protests, 614 of them in Santiago, That followed 179 arrests in Santiago on Saturday.

The military authorities mandated by Pinera with reestablishing order in Santiago declared on Sunday another night-time curfew in the capital as the government struggled to contain violent protests, looting and arson.

Slideshow (10 Images)

The general in charge of security in Santiago announced the curfew would begin at 7 p.m. (2200 GMT) on Sunday and end at 6 a.m. on Monday (0900 GMT).

However, several large demonstrations continued past the mandated curfew hour, witnesses and Chilean media reported.

Reporting by Aislinn Laing and Fabian Cambero; Additional reporting Natalia Ramos and Dave Sherwood; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Paul Tait

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