* Pinera most unpopular leader since Pinochet rule
* Chile economy seen growing 6.6 pct in 2011
By Fabian Cambero and Alexandra Ulmer
SANTIAGO, Aug 24 Protesters barricaded roads
and burned tires in parts of Chile's capital on Wednesday as a
two-day national strike began against unpopular President
Sebastian Pinera, but mining in the world's top copper producer
was not disrupted.
The strike, called by Chile's main umbrella labor union CUT
and coming on the heels of huge demonstrations by students
demanding free education, got off to a slow start.
Public transportation was running and banks were open.
While some miners said they supported the strike, operations at
some of the world's biggest copper mines were not affected.
Protester demands went beyond educational change, ranging
from a new constitution to a revamped tax system.
While previous governments have faced one-day national
strikes, it was the first 48-hour national strike since the
1973-1990 Augusto Pinochet dictatorship.
Government spokesman Andres Chadwick said police defused
some protests earlier on Wednesday, and that beyond traffic
disruptions, the situation was "normal."
"We're all worried about the social climate," said Finance
Minister Felipe Larrain, calling the strike illegal and a
threat to the economy. He said the government would not
"We want to be able to push ahead with our programs. ...
Government programs are not created in the street but at the
polls." Larrain estimated the strike would cost Chile about
$200 million a day.
Protesters clashed with police in recent weeks as hundreds
of thousands of people took to the streets to rail against the
conservative Pinera, who, according to a recent poll, is the
least popular leader in the two decades since the end of
Workers at some of the world's biggest copper mines have
stage strikes of their own. Workers at BHP Billiton's (BHP.AX)
(BLT.L) Escondida, the world's No.1 copper mine, halted a
two-week strike earlier this month that stoked global supply
While Latin America's model economy is seen expanding 6.6
percent this year and is an investor magnet thanks to prudent
fiscal and monetary policies, many ordinary Chileans feel they
are not sharing in an economic miracle fueled by high copper
Pinera, who took power a year and a half ago and appointed
a Cabinet filled with technocrats, has alienated many Chileans
with his policies. He is less than halfway through his
A major Cabinet reshuffle last month, the second since
Pinera took power, failed to quell unrest. [ID:nN1E76H180]
The slump in Pinera's support is seen hindering him in
Congress, and delaying the passage of capital market reforms
aimed at turning Chile into a financial hub to rival Brazil.
(Editing by Simon Gardner and Peter Cooney)