Chilean President Sebastián Piñera on Saturday announced the repeal of a subway fare hike that had prompted violent student protests less than a day after he declared a state of emergency amid rioting and commuter chaos in the capital. It was unclear if the rollback would end the demonstrations and rioting.
Soldiers patrolled the streets in Santiago for the first time since the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet ended in 1990, summoned to keep order following protests over a rise in subway fares from the equivalent $1.12 to $1.16. Subway service had been suspended in the capital since late Friday.
“I have heard with humility the voice of my compatriots,” Piñera said before announcing that “we are going to suspend” the fare hike.
The protest by students began on Monday when hundreds of young people mobbed several metro stations in Santiago, jumping over or dipping under turnstiles in a fare-dodging protest against the 4% increase in fares.
By the end of the week, demonstrations had turned violent with thousands of students burning subway stations and damaging dozens of others and some set fire to a high-rise energy company building. Officials reported 156 police officers and 11 civilians injured and more than 300 people arrested.
Authorities said that in all, 78 stations along with infrastructure and equipment had been damaged in a system that has long been a point of pride for Chileans.
The conservative Piñera vowed that those responsible for the violence “are going to pay for their deeds.”
Near midnight, Chile’s conservative president declared a state of emergency in affected areas, allowing authorities to restrict rights to assembly and movement. Soldiers were deployed in the streets.
Despite the presence of soldiers and police, thousands of Chileans continued protesting including in cities outside Santiago, not only against public transit fare hikes, but the price of electricity, water and medicines.
Police administered tear gas, while protesters had set up barricades and looted businesses.
Despite Piñera’s lifting of the fare hike, subway and public transportation services remained suspended late Saturday and the state of emergency was still in place. Authorities imposed a 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. local time curfew for Santiago.