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Chilean president shakes up government amid mass protests

Sebastian Pinera said he has asked his entire cabinet to resign amid widespread demonstrations over inequality.

An anti-government protester holds out Chilean flag during clashes with police in Valparaiso on Friday (AP)
An anti-government protester holds out Chilean flag during clashes with police in Valparaiso on Friday (AP)

By Associated Press Reporter

Chile’s president has asked all his cabinet members to offer their resignations as he shakes up his government in response to a massive wave of protests.

President Sebastian Pinera announced the impending cabinet shake-up on Saturday following protests a day earlier which drew more than one million people onto the streets of the capital, Santiago.

Mr Pinera said he had heard the message, and said “we have all changed” because of the protests, which were triggered by a small subway fare hike but quickly exploded into anger over economic inequality.

The president has already reacted by taking measures including raising the minimum wage and pensions, as well as scrapping the fare increase.

Mr Pinera, a conservative, said: “The march we all saw yesterday was a massive and peaceful march … We have all heard the message. We have all changed.”

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Volunteers help in the cleaning of the Baquedano subway station in Santiago (AP)

He promised “a new cabinet to confront these new demands and take charge of the new times”.

Mr Pinera also said he might lift the state of emergency that has covered much of the country for the past nine days – a decree which failed to bring peace after rioting broke out in response to a four-cent rise in subway fares.

The protests rapidly expanded to cover a far wider sense of frustration among many Chileans who felt they had been struggling to make do for years as the well-off grew increasingly richer. Friday’s demonstration was the largest in at least 35 years.

Protesters have been calling for better pay, pensions, schools, housing and medical care, among many other demands. While most of the protests have been peaceful, some – especially at the start of the row – have devolved into riots and looting, and the government says at least 20 people have died.

Mr Pinera has responded by raising pensions and the minimum wage, as well as by revoking the subway fare hike. He said he is also considering cutting water fees and highway tolls.

Some of those who protested on Friday said they would return to Italy Plaza in the city centre to clean up the garbage and debris left behind.

PA

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