More than one million people took to the streets in Chile Friday for the largest protests in a week of deadly demonstrations demanding economic reforms and the resignation of President Sebastian Pinera.
The leader told the thronging masses that he had “heard the message” in a post on Twitter, characterizing the protests in a positive light and as a means towards change.
Demonstrators carrying indigenous and national flags sang popular resistance songs from the 1973-90 Augusto Pinochet dictatorship era as the country, usually seen as one of the most stable in Latin America, grapples with its worst violence in decades.
Santiago’s governor Karla Rubilar described it as “a historic day” on Twitter, praising “a peaceful march… representing the dream of a new Chile.”
Rubilar said more than a million were demonstrating around the country, while Santiago’s town hall put the number of people marching in the capital at 820,000, citing police figures.
For the past week, Chileans’ pent-up anger has spilled over in the form of protests against a socio-economic structure that many feel has left them by the wayside, with low wages and pensions, costly health care and education, and a big gap between rich and poor.
Pinera, a conservative billionaire, wrote on Twitter that “the massive, happy and peaceful march today, where Chileans demanded a more just and supportive Chile, opens great paths for the future and hope.”
“We have all heard the message. We have all changed. With unity and help from God, we will travel the road towards a Chile that is better for all,” he said.
Pinera apologized earlier in the week for failing to anticipate the outbreak of social unrest and announced a raft of measures designed to placate people, such as increases in minimum pensions and wages.
He also announced a plan to end a deeply unpopular state of emergency and to lift a nighttime curfew, although both of those are now into their seventh day.
On Friday he called on legislators to “urgently approve these projects rather than arguing and debating so much.”
Francisco Anguitar, a 38-year-old artificial intelligence developer attending the demonstrations, told AFP the protests would probably “be the biggest ever. We’re asking for justice, honesty, ethical government.”
“It’s not that we want socialism or communism: We want fewer private enterprises, more state,” he said.