By Dave Sherwood and Natalia A. Ramos Miranda
A woman walks past a subway station burned during last week’s protests against Chile’s state economic model in Santiago, Chile, October 21, 2019. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Chileans confronted hours-long lines at grocery stores and gas stations in the capital Santiago after a weekend of chaos in which at least 11 people were killed amid violent clashes, arson attacks and looting through the country.
Several Chilean cities were engulfed by days of riots, along with peaceful protests, after a hike in public transport costs. The violence prompted President Sebastian Pinera to declare a state of emergency in several cities, placing the military in charge of security.
Both the peso and the country’s IPSA blue-chip stock exchange opened down on Monday morning following the clashes. Officials late Sunday said the country’s copper mining industry, the world’s largest, was operating normally.
Dr. Jaime Mañalich, the health minister, said 239 civilians had been injured in three days of unrest. In addition to eight killed in fires over the weekend, Interior Minister Andres Chadwick said three more had died, including one man from gunshot injuries in the northern province of Coquimbo.
Chadwick said vandals who first attacked the metro and bus system had turned to looting and burning grocery stores to target the “country’s food supply chain.”
“That obviously reflects an intention … to cause harm to citizens in their daily lives,” Chadwick said.
Walmart Chile said more than 100 of its grocery stores had been looted, and in some cases burned.
In Santiago, most schools and businesses remained closed as many of the city’s 6 million residents ventured out in search of food and fuel after the weekend lock-down.
Transportation officials in Santiago brought in more than 400 buses to reinforce the city’s fleet Monday morning, and re-opened the downtown line of the metro providing east-west transportation across the city.
Amid the weekend’s looting, arson and clashes, residents of rich and poor neighborhoods alike also took to the streets, clanging pots in a show of widespread discontent over rising living costs and patchy public services.
Pinera, who this weekend acknowledged a need for “dialogue,” nonetheless extended the state of emergency late on Sunday night, saying “we are at war,” against vandals.
Javier Iturriaga, the general in charge of Santiago’s security, said in a televised broadcast early Monday he had conducted an overflight of Santiago and was “very satisfied” with the situation. He said the military would nonetheless continue to provide security.
When asked by a reporter if he agreed the country was at war, Iturriaga responded: “I’m not at war with anyone. I’m a happy man.”
The metro, which suffered multiple arson attacks at stations through Santiago, was operating smoothly during the morning rush, albeit with many fewer people than on a typical Monday morning. Many businesses told their workers to stay home.
CITY IN TATTERS
Those that did venture out to work found a city in tatters.
In downtown Santiago, street sweepers cleaned up broken glass, scrap metal and barricades that accumulated over several nights of protests. Soldiers guarded the entrances to many supermarkets and metro stops.
Newly inked graffiti covered the face of nearly every building along many city blocks. Tear gas lingered in the air, forcing pedestrians to walk with faces covered.
“It was not easy to get here this morning, but here we are,” said Graciela Molina, a 27-year old Venezuelan migrant who was accompanying her sister to an immigration appointment. “This is like reliving a nightmare for us.”
Tourists and travelers also faced hurdles. Delays persisted at Santiago’s international airport, where 253 flights were canceled through Monday morning as airport and airline staff struggled to make it to work.
Chilean airline LATAM, the region’s largest, said on social media it was “continuing to work to minimize the impact of the situation on our operation.” The airline advised passengers not to travel to the airport if their flight was canceled but to rebook on the website.
A union of workers at BHP’s Escondida copper mine, the world’s largest copper mine, told Reuters early Monday it would walk off the job for at least a shift on Tuesday in a show of support for the demands of protesters.
Reporting by Dave Sherwood, additional reporting by Fabian Cambero; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Chris Reese
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