Chile's Pinera signs hate crime law after gay youth death

SANTIAGO Thu Jul 12, 2012 7:04pm EDT

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SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile on Thursday became one of the last Latin American nations to pass an anti-discrimination law, after a brutal beating that led to a young gay man's death put pressure on conservative president Sebastian Pinera's government to act.

The hate-crime bill, which was originally introduced by ex-president Ricardo Lagos, was signed into law by Pinera after being tied up in Congress for seven years.

Chile, one of Latin America's richest countries, remains conservative and heavily influenced by the Catholic Church, which considers homosexual acts sinful.

In March, 24-year-old Daniel Zamudio was attacked in a Santiago park and died 20 days later, bed-ridden, in a public hospital. A group of alleged neo-Nazis reportedly beat him for an hour, burned him with cigarettes and carved swastikas into his skin.

With the new law, those accused of hate crimes will be served harsher sentences and could be fined up to $3,600.

Billionaire Pinera has been hammered on social issues since he took office in 2010, sending his approval ratings tumbling to the lowest levels for a leader since the end of Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship in 1990.

While the new law could give Pinera a minor boost, he is likely to continue to face fierce social protests by students, union workers and environmentalists.

Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela all have laws to combat discrimination.

(Writing by Anthony Esposito and Alexandra Ulmer; Additional reporting by Diego Ore and Eyanir Chinea in Caracas, Daniela Desantis in Asuncion and Pablo Garibian in Mexico City; Editing by David Brunnstrom)

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