August 21, 2016 / 11:26 PM / 3 years ago

Chileans step up pension reform demands with nationwide protests

Demonstrators take part in a protest against government to demand changes to the national pension system in Santiago, Chile, August 21, 2016. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of Chileans took to the streets throughout the country on Sunday, seeking to increase pressure on the government to throw out Chile’s private pension system in favor of one that would provide better retirement benefits.

Under the current system, which was started in the 1980s during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, six private pension funds, known as AFPs, manage some $160 billion in assets.

Opponents of Chile’s private pension system say it forces workers to give their earnings to for-profit funds that do not ensure a dignified old age for all Chileans.

“We expect the president and her government to open a dialogue and listen to the citizens of the country, and not just the owners of the AFPs,” said Luis Mesina, spokesman for a group called No More AFPs, which organized the march.

Organizers of the protest said 350,000 participated in the capital, Santiago, alone. Local police put the number at 80,000.

Some marchers carried signs reading: “Chileans Ripped Off”.

President Michelle Bachelet has offered a plan to hike the pension contribution rate by 5 percentage points. That would cost about $3.8 billion a year, with the state paying $1.5 billion, the government said earlier this month.

But the protesters said they wanted the current system dismantled. Any reforms must be passed by Congress, where there is broad support for boosting pensions.

Reporting by Fabian Cambero; Editing by Peter Cooney

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