Protesters in Chile set fire to university, loot church

Santiago: Demonstrators in Chile set a university building ablaze and ransacked a church on Friday at the close of an otherwise peaceful rally marking three weeks of unprecedented protests against social and economic inequality. Protesters clashed with police who had set up barricades to protect private Pedro de Valdivia University, and shortly thereafter the wooden roof of its 100-year-old administration building began to burn, witnesses said. Fire crews had trouble reaching the blaze because of all the demonstrators.

Nearby, hooded protesters looted the church of La Asuncion, which was built in 1876, dragging furniture outside and setting it alight. Tens of thousands of people had filed earlier into Plaza Italia, which has become ground zero in this spasm of grassroots fury over low wages, high costs for education and healthcare and a socio-economic system they see as favouring the wealthy. The unrest has left 20 people dead. In the third such huge march, they renamed the square “Dignity Plaza.”

As night fell, protesters blocked roads near an upscale shopping mall that is considered a symbol of modern, prosperous Chile and erected flaming barricades. They chanted and shouted slogans against conservative President Sebastian Pinera. The mall has been closed for nearly two weeks because of the unrest. As they passed by the presidential palace, protesters chanted slogans against Pinera and demanded that he step down. — AFP