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Chile hit by violent protests

Police and demonstrators clash in Santiago as students lead unrest against policies of President Sebastián Pinera Protesters have clashed violently with police in Chile’s capital to decry President Sebastián Pinera’s policies, as a poll showed him to be the least popular leader in two decades since the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship.

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Demonstrators led by students demanding cheaper and better state education blocked roads and lit fires as police used water cannons and tear gas to quell the latest outcry against the conservative billionaire.

Some protesters in Santiago and as far afield as Copiapo in the far north started banging pots and pans in a “cacerolazo”, a popular form of protest in Latin America reminiscent of Chile’s 1973-1990 dictatorship. The term cacerolazo was the world’s top trending topic on Twitter on Thursday night.

Television footage showed a La Polar department store in downtown Santiago ablaze amid the unrest, though firemen said it was too early to determine the cause.

Retailer La Polar is embroiled in the biggest financial scandal the country has seen in years, which has piled additional pressure on former business magnate Pinera, who critics accuse of failing on oversight. La Polar has admitted that it unilaterally refinanced the credit of hundreds of thousands of clients.

Violence also flared in the port city of Valparaiso, and the government said police detained 552 people across the country and that 29 officers and two protesters were injured.

Hundreds of thousands of people have protested in Santiago and Chile’s other main cities in recent weeks and miners and environmentalists have rallied against Pinera, who is less than half way through his four-year term.

Pinera, who took power a year and a half ago and appointed a cabinet filled with technocrats in a perceived bid to make government run like a business, has alienated many Chileans with his policies. Pollster CEP said on Thursday just 26% of Chileans approved of his leadership of the world’s top copper producer.

Filed in: World News

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