SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Police in Chile broke up a fresh round of anti-government protests in one of Santiago´s central squares late on Monday, arresting 14 and citing rules against congregations intended to ward off the spread of coronavirus.
Protests over deep-rooted inequality erupted last October over a hike in metro fares, devastating the economy and leading to thousands of arrests and injuries.
But the fast-spreading coronavirus, and the measures put in place to combat it, had all but silenced the masses that once turned out on a near nightly basis.
Chile´s “Carabinero” police force said on Twitter the arrests in Santiago´s Plaza Italia, were warranted “because mass congregations are prohibited in public spaces.”
Police did not specify how many people had gathered in the square. But videos on social media showed several relatively small groups shouting and touting signs of protest.
Health authorities have banned gatherings of more than 50 people nationwide to thwart the spread of coronavirus. The country remains under curfew each evening. Restaurants, bars, malls and movie theaters have all been shuttered.
But protesters´ anger over low wages, high cost of living and meager pensions continues to simmer.
President Sebastian Pinera sparked outrage in early April when he by posed for photographs at the empty plaza amid a strict lockdown in the city. Pinera´s approval ratings had plummeted to historic lows for a Chilean president as the 2019 protests raged. Many called on him to resign.
The president´s ratings have nonetheless crept upwards amid the country´s measured response to the pandemic, and a raft of stimulus measures worth more than 5% of gross domestic product.
The package included a promise on Monday to cut checks to the country´s poorest citizens, a plan worth at least $300 million monthly.
Critics, however, said the measures do not go far enough, and argue that loopholes in the proposed stimulus allow some to fall through the cracks.
Analysts and marketwatchers predict a sharp contraction of Chile´s economy in 2020 and double-digit unemployment, triggering deepening poverty and inequality and a return to the protests of 2019.
Reporting by Dave Sherwood and Fabian Cambero; Editing by Alistair Bell
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