Piñera apologies to Chile, unveils raft of social measures
"I recognise this lack of vision and I apologise to my compatriots," Pinera said in an address from the presidential palace in Santiago as he tries to halt violent protests over economic inequality which have swept the country and claimed 15 lives.
Chilean President Sebastián Piñera announced a package of social measures Tuesday aimed at stemming days of protests over economic inequality that have swept the country and claimed 15 lives.
Apologising to the nation for failing to anticipate the outbreak of social unrest, Piñera said his government had "received with humility and clarity the message Chileans have given us."
The leader vowed to increase the universal basic pension by 20 percent, cancel a recent 9.2 percent increase in electricity bills and propose a law that would see the Sate cover the costs of expensive medical treatment.
"I recognise this lack of vision and I apologise to my compatriots," Pinera said in an address from the presidential palace in Santiago.
Piñera also pledged a state subsidy to increase minimum wage to 350,000 pesos (US$482) a month and said the government would introduce health insurance for medication, which is among the most expensive in the region.
Earlier in the day he met with the leaders of some of Chile's opposition parties as he sought a way to stem the country's worst violence in decades, initially triggered by an increase in metro fares.
The protests, which began Friday, mushroomed into a broader outcry against social and economic woes, including a yawning gap between rich and poor, in a country normally considered one of the most stable in Latin America.
Piñera quickly suspended the metro fare hike, but also declared that Chile was "at war against a powerful, implacable enemy," and imposed a state of emergency in Santiago and most of Chile's 16 regions.
Adopting a more conciliatory tone, he later called for Tuesday's meeting, which was boycotted by three of the largest opposition groups, including the powerful Socialist Party.
The day's protests were mostly peaceful, particularly in the capital, although looting continued in other towns.But with the country's largest union, the Workers' United Center of Chile (CUT) alongside 18 other social organisations, calling strikes and protests for Thursday and Friday, the pressure had been on Piñera to act.
The protest violence -–widespread looting, arson and clashes with the 20,000 security forces deployed on the streets – is the worst to hit Chile since the country's return to democracy after the 1973-1990 rightwing dictatorship led by General Augusto Pinochet.
On Tuesday the Army announced a nighttime curfew – from 8pm to 5am – for the fourth day in a row.
Before Piñera's announcement, one of Chile's largest conglomerates, Quinenco, decided to act swiftly and promised to increase its minimum salaries to 500,000 pesos a month from January 1 – 60 percent more than the current minimum wage of 301,000 pesos.
Chile's big business conglomerates are one of the major factors in the huge wealth disparity that has angered protesters.
A 55-year-old man taking part in Monday's protests, who gave his name only as Orlando, told AFP that low salaries and pensions, waiting lists at hospitals and high prices for medicine, were the true reasons for the protests.
The government started naming some of the dead on Tuesday. Nine had died in fires, one was electrocuted and five were shot, four of those by the security forces.
Eleven of the fatalities were in the Santiago region, while a Peruvian and an Ecuadorian were among the dead.