A state of emergency has been declared in the Chilean capital, Santiago, after protests against increased metro ticket prices turned violent.
Protesters – many of them high school and university students – jumped turnstiles, attacked several underground stations, started fires and blocked traffic, leaving widespread damage across the city and thousands of commuters without transport.
Television pictures showed protesters attacking police vehicles, throwing stones and burning at least one bus. Anti-riot police used tear gas and batons against some protesters, who have been demonstrating for days against the increase.
Metro authorities said all lines would remain closed for at least two days due to the serious destruction that made it impossible to operate the system safely. The damages were estimated at $700,000, including broken surveillance cameras and other equipment.
Santiago’s underground system is considered one of Latin America’s most modern, with 140km (86 miles) of track and 136 stations.
Earlier this month, the government increased fares by as much as $1.17 (£0.90) for a journey during peak hours, blaming higher energy costs and a weaker peso.
The Chilean government condemned what it described as “acts of violence and vandalism” that were “being carried out by organised groups”, and invoked the State Security Law that imposes harsher sentences for those found guilty of public disorder.
The protests continued after nightfall, with people clanging pots and blocking traffic.
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Speaking earlier, President Sebastián Piñera told Radio Agricultural: “It’s one thing to demonstrate and another to commit the vandalism we have observed. This isn’t protest, it’s crime.”
It was not immediately clear how many people had been detained or injured. Despite the protests, authorities said they would not reverse the fare increase.
The unrest exposes divisions in the country, one of Latin America’s wealthiest but also one of its most unequal. There have been growing complaints about the cost of living – especially in Santiago, a city of some six million people – and calls for tax, labour and pension system reforms.
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