Chile's Pinera announces price cuts, new wage after protests

President promises 20 percent increase in pensions, a minimum monthly wage of $480 and stabilised electricity costs.

    Chile's Pinera announces price cuts, new wage after protests
    Demonstrators march against high living costs in Chile [File: Juan Gonzalez/Reuters]

    Chile's President Sebastian Pinera has announced new measures aimed at resolving one of the country's worst political crises in years following weeks of protests.

    In a televised speech on Tuesday, Pinera promised an immediate 20 percent increase in government-subsidised pensions, a guaranteed monthly wage of $480, cheaper medicines for the poor and stabilised electricity costs.

    He also announced a new tax bracket of 40 percent for those earning more than $11,000 a month, as well as potential wage cuts for politicians and public officials.

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    Pinera also asked for forgiveness for past and current governments over their failure to address deep inequalities afflicting Latin America's fifth-largest economy.  

    "The people have delivered a clear message," Pinera said.

    "It's true that these problems didn't appear in the last couple of days. They have been accumulating for decades, but it's also true that the governments were not able to acknowledge the situation in its complete magnitude.

    "I recognise this lack of vision and I apologise to my countrymen," he added.  

    Pinera said he hoped to turn recent violent protests into an "opportunity" for Chile "to make up for lost time".

    Claudia Mix, a congresswoman, dismissed Pinera comments on Twitter, saying that "Chile needed a new social pact with greater political and social democracy".

    Cristobal Bellolio, a political commentator based at Santiago's University of Adolfo Ibanez, said the pledges were "a step in the right direction" but added he did not know "if it's enough".

    Protests 

    At least 15 people were killed and more than 5,000 arrested in protests that started last week in the wake of an increase in metro fares, prompting a weekend of riots, looting of businesses and the declaration of a state of emergency by Pinera across 10 cities.

    Further protests were expected on Wednesday, along with a general strike called in solidarity with the demonstrations that will include the union of top copper miner Codelco. 

    In an open letter to Pinera, rights group Amnesty International said it was concerned over human rights violations and limitations imposed by the military during city-wide evening lockdowns.

    "The sole fact that some groups or people have committed acts of violence in a protest does not authorise security forces to dissolve them with the use of force," said Erika Guevara, the group's Americas director.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies