Chile president announces tougher public order laws

Santiago (AFP) –


Chile's President Sebastian Pinera on Thursday announced a series of measures to tighten public order in the wake of three weeks of anti-government protests that have left 20 people dead.

The legislative package, aimed at curbing violent demonstrations and looting, includes measures that would ban protesters from wearing hoods and burning barricades, and provides greater protection for police.

"We are convinced that this agenda represents and constitutes a significant and important contribution to improve our capacity to safeguard public order," said Pinera, who has rejected calls to resign.

He also said a special prosecution team would be established to try offenders while, in the longer term, intelligence gathering would be revamped.

Pinera's announcement came after demonstrations on Wednesday spread into Santiago's wealthiest neighborhoods for the first time.

Unrest that began on October 18 with protests against a rise in transport tickets and other austerity measures has descended into burning, looting and daily clashes between protesters and police.

Police said Thursday nearly 10,000 people had been arrested during the unrest, most being released shortly afterwards.

The conservative president last week reshuffled his government and announced a series of measures aimed at placating the protesters, including a law guaranteeing a minimum monthly wage of some $467.

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

Pinera said in a BBC interview broadcast Tuesday that he would not resign over the protests, arguing that Chile's social problems "have been accumulating for the past 30 years."

The president said he had convened a meeting of Chile's National Security Council on Thursday afternoon to discuss the ongoing crisis.