Millennium Post

Chile's response to Prez Pinera's reforms: Strike & more protests

SANTIAGO: Students and state workers dispersed peacefully in cities across Chile late on Wednesday, following mass protests against inequality, even as President Sebastian Pinera pledged social reforms to try to quell days of rioting.

Thousands of striking workers, including healthcare professionals and teachers, banged pots and carried banners late into the evening in the capital Santiago. The largely peaceful marches were monitored by police and soldiers.

Officials decreed a 10 p.m. curfew, for the city's fifth consecutive night of military lockdown. Tear gas used to disperse protesters lingered in many main squares and downtown streets.

The day´s marches and demonstrations dovetailed four days of protests, arson attacks and looting in which more than 6,000 people have been detained and at least 18 killed.

Trade unions and social groups wanted a voice in the rollout of a social reform plan announced by Pinera on Tuesday, said José Pérez Debelli, president of the National Grouping of Fiscal Employees (ANEF), one of the unions that called the strike.

"We must carry the voice of those who are on the street, to channel anger and discontent over the inequality of our country," he said.

The Copper Workers Federation (FTC), which includes unionized workers from each division of state miner Codelco, the world's top producer of the metal, joined the strike, prompting it to shut down its Andina mine and drastically scale back operations at its Ventanas smelter.

The federation called an end to the strike late in the day, after agreeing to further talks with government officials aimed at improving work conditions.

Top copper miner Antofagasta Plc (ANTO.L) said on Wednesday protests in Chile could cut its production by about 5,000 tonnes, roughly less than 3% of third-quarter output, because of delays in supplies and travel disruptions for workers.

It was only "a matter of time" before knock-on effects in the supply chain had a negative impact on the mining industry, said Jimena Blanco, head of Latin America research at consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.

"For example, yesterday's strike by the port workers' union affected 20 of the country's maritime facilities, including key mining export ones in Antofagasta and Iquique," she said.

In his announcement, Pinera, a billionaire businessman, said he hoped to turn the violent protests into an "opportunity" for Chile.

His proposed reforms include a guaranteed minimum wage, a hike in state pensions and stabilization of electricity costs. For many protesters, these were a step in the right direction. Others

demanded more.

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