Chile president fends off police abuse claims amid fresh clashes

Santiago (AFP) –


Chile's president said Wednesday his government had "nothing to hide" concerning allegations that police killed, tortured and sexually assaulted civilians during deadly protests against him.

Prosecutors say five of the 20 deaths recorded in the protests against high living costs were suspected to have been at the hands of security forces.

"We have been totally transparent about the figures because we have nothing to hide," President Sebastian Pinera said in a speech on Wednesday.

Clashes between protesters and police have turned parts of the capital Santiago into a battleground over recent nights.

On Wednesday, protesters called on demonstrators to expand their rallies to rich districts so far untouched by the wave of demonstrations, centering on a major shopping center.

- Rioting goes upmarket -

Hundreds of students poured into the district, looting a pharmacy and two banks and clashing with riot police as traffic ground to a halt.

The Costanera Center is South America's biggest shopping center and a symbol of the economic expansion that had made Chile one the region's most stable countries until the latest unrest.

Riot police used water cannon and tear gas to disperse protesters concentrating in various areas around the mall.

"We are living a level of violence and destruction never seen before in the commune," said the mayor of the upmarket Providencia district, Evelyn Matthei.

Other messages on social media called on protesters to rally in the upmarket Vitacura district at the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

"The time has come to get to the east," said one message, indicating the upscale areas of the capital.

"People are rather sad and scared about how the country can return to normalcy," said Andrea Ortega, a 43-year-old lawyer who left her office early to look after her children, fearing rioting in a district which has hitherto been left unscathed by the violence.

Thousands of protesters also gathered at the city's Plaza Italia, the epicenter of the protests over the past three weeks.

On Tuesday, riot officers firing shot pellets injured two students among a group trying to overrun a public high school in Santiago, police said. The students were treated at a hospital and released.

- Showpiece summits cancelled -

The crisis has forced the government to cancel separate international economic and climate summits as well as a major international football match, the Copa Libertadores final.

A UN human rights mission is investigating allegations of police brutality during the unrest.

The Washington-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on Wednesday also asked Pinera's authorization to send a mission to Chile at the request of human rights groups.

Chile's independent National Human Rights Institute says it has brought legal action over 181 cases including alleged murders, sexual violence and torture by the military police.

Pinera said state agents who committed abuses would be punished just as severely as those who carried out vandalism or violence in the protests.

He has reshuffled his government and announced a series of measures aimed at placating the protesters.

In the latest of these, on Wednesday he signed a law guaranteeing a minimum monthly wage of some $467.

But protesters have continued demanding that the right-wing billionaire president step down.