Thousands take to Chile streets to mark protest movement anniversary

Santiago (AFP) –


Thousands of demonstrators gathered 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 on October 18, 2019.

There was a festive atmosphere on the Plaza Italia as demonstrators, many wearing masks to protect against the coronavirus pandemic, held up banners, sang and danced.

There were isolated clashes with police, who gradually pulled back from the central square.

"It's great, very good and positive. They're pure good things for Chile in everything from here," demonstrator Viviana Donoso, 43, told AFP as she and a group of people danced to drums.

"The people of Chile need to unite, and we have to believe that we can do things."

For Victor Hugo de la Fuente, a journalist and manager at the Chilean edition of Le Monde Diplomatique, happiness reigned amongst protesters "due to the possibility of progressing and achieving a fairer and more democratic Chile."

Demonstrators also called for their countrymen to vote to "approve" the proposed constitutional change.

"This is the opportunity to say enough! We're here and we're going to vote for 'Approve,'" Paulina Villarroel, a 29-year-old psychologist, told AFP.

The government of President Sebastian Pinera -- one of the protesters' main targets -- called on demonstrators to be peaceful and to respect coronavirus restrictions.

The deadly outbreak has left 13,600 Chileans dead with more than 490,000 infected.