Santiago de Chile, Oct 18 (efe-epa).- Two churches in the center of Santiago de Chile were burned Sunday after a massive demonstration that gathered tens of thousands of people to commemorate the first anniversary of the most serious wave of protests since the end of the military dictatorship.
The first to be set alight was the San Francisco de Borja Church, used regularly by the Carabineros police force for institutional ceremonies.
Hours later, the Asunción Church, one of the oldest in the capital with more than a century and a half behind it, began to burn too.
Both churches are in the vicinity of Plaza Italia, the epicenter of the so-called “social outbreak” which Sunday was scene to one of the biggest gatherings so far this year.
“Indignation and sadness over the fire and destruction of the parish of La Asunción, and the attack on the San Francisco de Borja church, both heritage buildings,” said Minister of Cultures, Arts and Chilean Heritage, Consuelo Valdés, Sunday on her Twitter account.
The church of San Francisco de Borja was also looted and some of its religious images were burned in the street, while that of La Asunción saw its dome fall to the ground, consumed by flames.
In the vicinity of the roundabout, baptized by protesters as “Plaza Dignidad” (Dignity Square), several shops were also looted, including a supermarket of an international chain, and attacks by hooded men were also recorded on some police stations on the outskirts of the capital, such as Puente Alto.
Barricades were set up in some points near the plaza and in other areas of the capital, while in cities such as Antofagasta there were also some violent incidents and clashes with the police.
Conservative Chilean president Sebastián Piñera, who spent the whole day at his residence, went in the afternoon to the Palacio de La Moneda – headquarters of the government – to monitor the incidents, which darkened a day that had started with a festive and family oriented atmosphere.
Young people, older adults, social collectives and entire families approached the square from early hours, brandishing flags and banners in favor of greater social equality and chanting the motto of the riots: “Chile woke up!”
There were also concentrations in cities such as Valparaíso, Viña del Mar, Antofagasta and Concepción.
According to the Carabineros police force, at least 18 officers were injured in various parts of the capital. Unlike in other weeks, the police force was retracted for most of the day and began to act when the outrage began.
The institution is in the spotlight for its harsh repression of the marches, which left some 30 dead and thousands injured.
Various international organizations, such as the United Nations, have accused the Carabineros of having committed human rights violations. According to the Prosecutor’s Office, there are more than 4,600 cases open against them.
The rallies for the anniversary were held one week before more than 14.5 million Chileans are to decide in a historic referendum whether they want to replace the current constitution, inherited from the dictatorship and seen as the origin of the inequalities that afflict the country.
The referendum, which was to be held in April but was postponed due to the pandemic, seeks to decompress the tension in a highly polarized country, which until last year was considered the most stable in Latin America. EFE-EPA