Hooded protesters have looted a Catholic church near the main gathering site for mass protests against Chile’s government over inequality. Source: Crux.
On Friday, an Associated Press photographer witnessed people dragging church pews, statues of Jesus and other religious iconography from La Asuncion church onto the street and setting them on fire in a flaming barricade before they clashed with police.
Ashes spread to Santiago’s Plaza Italia square where thousands were chanting and holding banners, while others turned on the lights on their mobile phones and waved Chilean national flags. The Chilean capital’s mayor estimated about 75,000 people had crowded the square.
Smoke also billowed from the nearby headquarters of Pedro de Valdivia University, which was also looted, though it wasn’t clear if protesters started the fire. Authorities said they were still investigating the cause.
Local TV reported attacks on businesses in some areas of the city and said a civil registry had caught fire.
Most of the protests over the past 22 days have been peaceful, but some have turned violent. Some rock-throwing demonstrators have been clashing with riot police, who respond with volleys of tear gas and water cannons.
At least 20 people have died and the Chilean Red Cross estimates 2,500 have been injured in the protests, which also forced the cancellation of two major international summits in Santiago.
The unrest began last month over a subway fare hike with students jumping turnstiles in protest. Demonstrations then erupted into clashes, looting and arson and the movement spread nationwide with a broad range of demands, including improvements in education, health care and a widely criticised pension system in one of Latin America’s richest, but most socially unequal, countries.
“We still haven’t achieved anything, so we’re going to keep protesting,” said 17-year-old student Ginette Pérez, who joined the crowds flooding the streets.
Friday’s demonstrations in the capital began with truck drivers and students protesting against a series of measures announced by Chilean President Sebastián Piñera to crack down on vandals and looting, which some said could exacerbate the violence.