Spain offers to host climate change summit after Chile withdraws

Chile withdrew from hosting the event due to ongoing street protests over growing inequality.

    Spain offers to host climate change summit after Chile withdraws
    A woman walking past a wall with a graffiti reading "Chile woke up" during a protest against Chile's government in Santiago, Chile [Jorge Silva/Reuters]

    Spain has offered to host the United Nations COP25 climate change summit in Madrid, following Chile's withdrawal as host amid raging street protests in the South American country.

    The Spanish government said in a statement on Thursday that President Pedro Sanchez had indicated that it was ready to do what was needed to host the conference in Madrid. It said the UN would analyse the Madrid alternative at a meeting in Bonn, Germany, next week.

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    Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said Sanchez had offered to host the summit in Spain on the same days as previously scheduled, between December 2 and December 13.

    "I hope that this generous offer from the president of Spain ... represents a solution," Pinera said. "We have shared this information with the leading authorities at the United Nations."

    Chile Protest 2
    Demonstrators throwing stones at a police vehicle during an anti-government protest in Santiago, Chile [Edgard Garrido/Reuters]

    The UN did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Spain's offer.

    Violent protests have left large parts of Santiago, the initial venue for the COP25 conference, shut down - with its vital metro transport system suffering nearly $400 million in damage.

    The abrupt move to withdraw as the event's host caught participants off-guard and without an alternative venue.

    Pinera also pulled out of hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit next month, calling the decision to cancel the two meetings "deeply painful", but saying it was necessary because his country was not in the position to host the events. 

    'Damage control'

    Protesters have taken to the streets in large numbers across the country since early October. What started as a protest against a metro fare hike has since ballooned over concerns of rising inequality. 

    Pinera's concessions, which include a package of social reforms and a partial cabinet reshuffle, have so far failed to satisfy protesters, who have demanded he resign and for a new constitution to be formed. 

    In Santiago, Chileans said Pinera was "obliged to cancel" COP25 and APEC "before other governments pulled out". 

    "It was necessary to cancel the COP and APEC because after all, the government didn't want the world to know what was going on with the human rights violations in Chile," said Juan Pablo, a 31-year-old medical student who has been volunteering as a medic throughout the protests.

    Chile protest
    Riot police detain a demonstrator during a protest against Chile's state economic model [Ivan Alvarado/Reuters] 

    At least 20 people have died as a result of the unrest, including five killed by military officials, prompting allegations of rights abuses. UN investigators arrived earlier this week to probe the allegations. 

    Marieke Riethof, a senior lecturer in Latin American Politics at the University of Liverpool, described Pinera's decision to cancel the summits as "hugely significant".

    "This is a clear example where you see that mobilisation, even if it doesn't have a clear set of leaders, can have a very big political influence. It reflects the government's concerns that holding the conferences would bring more protests," she said.

    "The summits are really important for Latin American governments to showcase their international image, their commitment to certain policies like climate change and trade, but it's also a potentially dangerous situation with lots of international visitors and the likelihood of large demonstrations. You could call [Pinera's] decision damage control."

    With additional reporting by Naomi Larsson in Santiago. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News