At least 42 policemen were injured and 264 protesters arrested in violent clashes as Chile marked the 40th anniversary of the coup that brought Augusto Pinochet to power, officials said on Thursday.
Clashes broke out for a second consecutive night late Wednesday in the suburbs of the capital Santiago — where protesters burned barricades and cut power.
The unrest — signaling the persistent divisions in Chile– came after conservative President Sebastian Piñera urged fellow citizens “not to forget, but to overcome the traumas of the past” and reconcile at a ceremony marking the 11 September, 1973, overthrow of then elected Socialist president Salvador Allende.
Visiting a hospital with wounded officers Thursday, Piñera blamed some of the unrest on organized crime who he said infiltrated the protesters.
The violence “has no justification,” he said, adding that it was worst in impoverished and vulnerable communities.
The police had deployed more than 8.000 police throughout the capital but this did not prevent the torching of several public transport buses and private cars, while power was cut down leaving over 200.000 people in the dark.
Rioters threw chains at electricity cables causing the blackout while taking advantage of the dark to attack the police with stones, sticks and Molotov bombs, one of which seriously injured a police General. Police forces fought back with rubber bullets and tear gas.
Some hooded protestors tried looting nearby businesses while many buildings and government property was damaged.
There is increasing pressure in Chile to unmask the whole truth about the Pinochet dictatorship, which was hated for its human rights abuses but also put Chile on a market-economics path to prosperity.
The Pinochet regime left more than 3,200 dead and some 38,000 people tortured in the country which today has 17 million people and is the continent’s country with the highest per capita income.
By five in the morning Thursday, officials had counted 42 injured policemen, including six with serious wounds including from gunshots or some kind of acid, Interior and Security Minister Andres Chadwick said. He said 264 protesters were arrested, but noted that it was a partial toll.
Public transport buses and seven other smaller vehicles were burned, he said, adding to the tally of five cars torched the morning previous.
“The violence was stronger. The use of weapons might be the most intense we’ve ever had,” Chadwick said.
Among the wounded was General Rodolfo Pacheco, chief of police of the metropolitan region, who suffered a concussion after being hit by a Molotov cocktail that failed to explode.