Chile’s defence minister rejects claims of force ‘intentionally’ used on protesters

Chile’s defence minister on Friday issued a furious rebuttal of claims by Amnesty International that excessive force was “intentionally” used on protesters to “punish” them for taking to the streets.

Alberto Espina told journalists outside La Moneda presidential palace that the Amnesty claim was “extraordinarily serious and absolutely false” as well as “lacking in proof.”

He said soldiers called onto the streets for nine days during a state of emergency announced by President Sebastian Pinera in mid-October had behaved with “professionality and discipline.”

Demonstrators march in front of La Moneda presidential palace during a protest against the government in Santiago on Thursday. (Johan Ordonez/AFP via Getty Images)

“In the cases, as you would see with any group made up of human beings, that mistakes might have been made … they are being investigated by civilian courts with the full cooperation of the armed forces,” he said.

Amnesty International said in a report published on Thursday that the army “used lethal weapons indiscriminately against unarmed protesters on at least four occasions” and senior commanders allowed the use of excessive force.

Chile has seen a month of both peaceful protests and violent riots over low pensions and salaries, the high cost of living, and security force abuses.

The unrest has left at least 23 dead, 7,000 detained and 3,700 injured, according to authorities and rights groups.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said Friday that security forces had behaved with ‘professionality and discipline.’ (Pedro Lopez/AFP via Getty Images)

UN investigating 

On Friday, a team of United Nations investigators ended a fact-finding mission to Chile and returned to Geneva to report back.

Michelle Bachelet, the UN human rights commissioner and former Chilean president, told Chilean students in London on Thursday that they would be issuing “a broad diagnosis and recommendations.”

“When you hear there are so many people with eye injuries … my pre-judgment is that [security force] protocol isn’t being followed,” she said.

On Thursday, there were intense clashes with police in Valparaiso, 115 kilometres west of Santiago, after protesters attempted to storm the country’s congress. The Santiago metro also saw fresh mass fare evasions and a shopping mall was looted and set alight.

A demonstrator throws stones at a riot police vehicle during a protest in Santiago on Tuesday. (Claudio Reyes/AFP via Getty Images)

On Friday, as protesters assembled for what has become a popular day in the weekly calendar for demonstrations, the metro was once again disrupted by a wildcat protest in a station in Santiago’s business district.

Pinera has sought to address protesters’ grievances, sending a raft of fresh legislation to parliament covering pensions, the cost of medication and minimum wages. The country’s normally fractious political parties have also agreed to work together on a new constitution.

However, protests continue, in smaller numbers and with intense violence at their fringes, driven by mistrust that politicians will keep their promises to bring significant change, and enduring fury over the police handling of demonstrators.

Simoney Arancibia, 32, a municipal worker in Santiago, told Reuters she would continue mobilizing over poor education and pensions. “It is true that there was a political agreement, but for now we do not see concrete answers,” she said. “We need more.”

Port workers have announced a strike starting on Monday, potentially hampering exports from Chile’s key mining, forestry and fruit industries.