Thousands mark Chile protest movement anniversary

SANTIAGO (AFP) – Two churches were torched as tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered on Sunday in a central Santiago square to mark the anniversary of a protest movement that broke out last year demanding greater equality in Chile.

The demonstration comes just a week before Chileans vote in a referendum on whether to replace the dictatorship-era constitution – one of the key demands when the protest movement began in October 2019.

While the morning brought a largely festive atmosphere to the protests at Plaza Italia, there were several incidences of violence, looting and vandalism in the afternoon.

One church close to Plaza Italia was burned to the ground as hooded protesters cheered, while a second place of worship was looted and also suffered fire damage.

Firefighters managed to get that blaze under control.

“Burning churches is an expression of brutality,” said Minister of the Interior and Security Víctor Perez, adding that the violence was coming from a “minority” of protesters. The small Church of the Assumption, which was totally destroyed, is known as the “artists’ parish,” according to local press. The building dated back to 1876.

Two police vehicles on fire in Santiago, Chile. PHOTO: AP