Chile's Sebastian Pinera vows action over security force abuses

Prosecutors are investigating more than 1,000 cases of alleged abuses by police and military during a month of protests.

    The United Nations and the Amnesty International have sent teams to investigate alleged human rights abuses [Goran Tomasevic/Reuters]
    The United Nations and the Amnesty International have sent teams to investigate alleged human rights abuses [Goran Tomasevic/Reuters]

    Chilean President Sebastian Pinera has pledged "no impunity" for security forces that he said used excessive force and violated the rights of protesters during weeks of violent riots over economic policies and social injustice that have killed more than 20 people.

    Public prosecutors in Chile are investigating more than 1,000 cases of alleged abuses - ranging from torture to sexual violence - by police and military personnel, while the United Nations and Amnesty International have sent teams to investigate the alleged human rights abuses by security forces. 

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    "Despite our firm commitment and precautions ... to protect human rights, in some cases protocols were not adhered to, there was excessive use of force and abuses and crimes were committed," Pinera said in a  televised speech on Sunday night. 

    "There will be no impunity," he added.

    Pinera had previously said the government had "nothing to hide" over allegations that security forces had tortured protesters, but promised to investigate. 

    Protests have rocked the capital, Santiago, for a month in the biggest crisis to hit the South American country since its return to democracy in 1990. Weeks of unrest have hampered the economy, prompting increasingly grim forecasts for growth and unemployment.

    Pinera's government has promised a series of reforms to quell protesters' demands, from beefing up the minimum wage to topping off pensions.

    Chilean legislators on Friday also announced a plan to hold a referendum in April 2020 on replacing the country's dictatorship-era constitution, a major concession to protesters who say it is rigged against the poor.

    Pinera hailed the decision in his Sunday night speech from La Moneda presidential palace.

    "Our citizens will now have the last word with respect to a new constitution, the first to be drawn up in democracy," Pinera said.

    The current constitution has been amended numerous times but does not establish the state's responsibility to provide education and healthcare. 

    "In the last four weeks, Chile has changed. Chileans have changed. The government has changed. We have all changed," Pinera said.

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    "The social pact under which we lived has broken."

    A survey published on Sunday by the consulting firm Cadem revealed an increase in Pinera's popularity over the last week, rising to 17 percent from 13 percent at the protests' height.

    The survey also indicated that 67 percent of Chileans are in favour of a new constitution.

    Financial markets celebrated Friday's announcement. Chile's stock exchange rebounded, posting its biggest daily gain in 11 years, and the peso shot upwards against the dollar after plummeting to an historic low days before. 

    Despite the announcement, thousands still took to the streets of Santiago later on Friday and violent clashes broke out between small groups of protesters and police. 

    Counting the cost of neoliberalism in Chile

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies