Two days of violent unrest in Santiago have seen metros and buses burned, and clashes between riot police and protesters

Santiago (AFP) - Chilean authorities extended a curfew for a second consecutive night Sunday after two people died in a torched supermarket amid a wave of unrest over price hikes and social inequality.

Police and the military fired tear gas and used water cannon against protesters in the capital Santiago as clashes raged through a third day.

President Sebastian Pinera – who introduced a state of emergency on Friday and deployed thousands of troops onto the streets – defended the measures.

“Democracy not only has the right, it has the obligation to defend itself using all the instruments that democracy itself provides, and the rule of law to combat those who want to destroy it,” Pinera said after an emergency meeting with top state officials.

The conservative president met late Sunday with the chairmen of the Congress and Senate and the head of the Supreme Court.

Interior and Security Minister Andres Chadwick said two women burned to death after a store owned by US retail chain Walmart was set alight in the early hours of Sunday.

A third victim, who authorities initially had said had died in hospital, suffered burns on 75 percent of her body.

Chadwick said two people suffered gunshot wounds following a clash with police who responded to a report of looting in a town south of Santiago.

Authorities reported 103 serious incidents throughout the country with 1,462 people detained, 614 in Santiago and 848 in the rest of the country.

Protesters set fire to buses, smashed up metro stations, knocked down traffic lights, ransacked shops and clashed with riot police in Santiago and other cities.

- Curfew extended -

Soldiers were deployed in the streets for the first time since Chile returned to democracy in 1990

The dusk-to-dawn curfew goes into effect from 7:00 pm (2200 GMT), after which people should “be calm and all in their homes,” top defense official General Javier Iturriaga announced.

Sunday’s curfew begins three hours earlier than the one called on Saturday.

Iturriaga was appointed head of national defense by Pinera on Friday as he declared a state of emergency in five regions and deployed troops on the streets for the first time since Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship between 1974-1990.

Almost all public transport in the capital of seven million people was paralyzed on Sunday, with shops shuttered and many flights in and out of Santiago’s international airport cancelled.

Louis de Grange, president of the state Metro S.A. company, told Canal 13 the “brutal destruction” of Santiago’s metro service had caused more than $300 million in damage.

The violence comes just a month before some of the world’s most influential leaders are due in Santiago to discuss trade at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

- ‘Good reasons’ to protest -

A state of emergency was declared in Chile on October 18, 2019, and thousands of troops ordered into the streets

What started earlier in the week as a protest against a hike in metro fares escalated dramatically on Friday as demonstrators expressed anger over social inequality and the government’s liberal economic system.

On Saturday, Pinera announced he was suspending the fare increase.

Pinera acknowledged that those in the streets had “good reasons” to protest but called on them “to demonstrate peacefully.”

The appeal failed to prevent further rioting and looting, not just in Santiago but also in the cities of Valparaiso and Concepcion, where a state of emergency has also been declared.

Soldiers have been deployed in the capital as well as the O’Higgins and Coquimbo regions that have experienced unrest.

“It’s really sad what’s happening, but the people are outraged because they’re not being listened to,” 26-year-old Antonia told AFP in central Santiago.

Dozens of protesters torched a building belonging to Chile’s oldest newspaper, El Mercurio, in Valparaiso on Saturday evening, while elsewhere in the port city a metro station, supermarkets and other stores were set on fire.

- Metro system hit hard -

Santiago’s entire metro system – South America’s largest and most modern and used by around three million people a day – was shut down on Friday as protesters burned and vandalized stations.

The hike in fares that set off the violence would have raised the price of peak hour travel from 800 to 830 pesos ($1.13 to $1.15). The government said the hike, which followed a 20-peso increase in January, was driven by rising oil prices and a weakening peso.

Initially, students and others responded by fare-dodging, but underlying social tensions quickly bubbled to the surface.

On Friday, the headquarters of the ENEL Chile power company and a Banco Chile branch – both in the center of Santiago – were set on fire and heavily damaged.

Chile has the highest per capita income of Latin America at $20,000, with expected economic growth this year of 2.5 percent and just two percent inflation.

But there is an undercurrent of frustration with an economic model that has virtually privatized all health care and education, at a time that falling pensions and rising costs of basic services have exacerbated existing social inequality.