World

1 million Chileans rally in Santiago protesting transportation costs, inequality

As many as a million Chileans protested late into the evening on Friday in the capital Santiago in the biggest rallies yet since violence broke out a week ago over entrenched inequality in the South American nation.

At least 19 people have died and more than 2,000 others have been detained

One million anti-government demonstrators rallied in Santiago, Chile on Friday, according to a local governor. A new round of clashes broke out Friday as demonstrators returned to the streets, dissatisfied with economic concessions announced by the government in a bid to curb a week of violence that began with a protest over a hike in subway fares. (Esteban Felix/The Associated Press)

As many as a million Chileans protested late into the evening on Friday in the capital Santiago in the biggest rallies yet since violence broke out a week ago over entrenched inequality in the South American nation.

Protesters waving national flags, dancing, banging pots with wooden spoons and bearing placards urging political and social change streamed through the streets, walking for miles from around Santiago to converge on Plaza Italia.

Traffic already hobbled by truck and taxi drivers protesting road tolls ground to a standstill as crowds shut down major avenues and public transport closed early ahead of marches that built throughout the afternoon.

By mid-evening, most had made their way home in the dark ahead of an 11 p.m. military curfew.

Santiago Governor Karla Rubilar said a million people marched in the capital — more than five per cent of the country's population. Protesters elsewhere took to the streets in every major Chilean city

At least 19 people have died in turmoil that has swept Chile, where unrest that began as a protest over an increase in subway fares has morphed into a larger movement over growing inequality. According to Chile's human rights watchdog, more than 2,000 people have been detained and over 500 injured.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet decided to send the human rights officers to Chile from Oct. 28 to Nov. 22 to examine allegations of violations, spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said in Geneva. 

Shamdasani said Chilean lawmakers had called for her office to send a mission and the government also invited it. Bachelet is a two-time former Chilean president and the predecessor of current President Sebastián Piñera.

Most demonstrations have been peaceful, but instances of arson, looting and alleged brutality by security forces have shocked many in a nation known for relative stability.

Struggling to contain the strife, Piñera's administration announced increases to the minimum wage and the lowest state pensions, rolled back the subway fare increase and put a 9.2 per cent increase in electricity prices on hold until the end of next year.

The UN mission aims to meet government officials, representatives of civil society, the National Human Rights Institution and others, she said. As well as looking into alleged rights violations and measures taken by the government, it "will also look into the root causes of the protests."

Officers arrest a demonstrator during clashes between protesters and police in Santiago on Sunday. Violent protests continue as anger over economic conditions and social inequality grows. (Claudio Reyes/AFP/Getty Images)

Truck and taxi driver protest

Chilean public transit operators, truck and taxi drivers brought gridlock to the capital's highways on Friday in a protest against high road tolls that added to a week of rowdy demonstrations over social inequality.

On Friday, traffic was snarled along some major access points to Santiago as tractor-trailer trucks, cars and taxis slowed to a crawl, honking horns, waving Chilean flags and bearing signs of protest at toll rates.

WATCH: Truck and taxi drivers bring highways to a standstill in Santiago

"No more tolls! Enough with the abuse!" read bright yellow-and-red signs plastered to the front of large trucks.

Chile's unrest is the latest in a flare-up of protests in South America and round the world — from Beirut to Barcelona — each with local triggers but also sharing underlying anger at social disparities and the ruling elite.

"These protests are necessary," said street vendor Sergio Perez. "But they've made everything difficult, especially getting around."

Chile's President Sebastián Piñera, seen at the UN General Assembly on Sept. 24, told Chileans on Thursday that he had heard their demands 'loud and clear.' (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

State of emergency

Chile's military has since taken over security in Santiago, a city of six million now under a state of emergency with night-time curfews.

"I used to take one bus to get to work, now I have to take four. This must stop," said Julio Herrera, 71, as he waited at a bus stop on his morning commute.

Piñera, a billionaire businessman, told the nation on Thursday he had heard "loud and clear" the demands of Chileans. He said he would send a bill to Congress on Friday to boost pensions by 20 per cent for the elderly.

Demonstrators gather in the Chilean town of Concepción, 500 kilometres south of Santiago, as protests continued around the country on Thursday. (Jose Luis Saavedra/Reuters)

Prosecutors said on Thursday that since Wednesday night 734 more people had been charged in connection with protests, looting and arson nationwide, with 324 taken into custody in Santiago.

An online poll conducted by local company Activa Research of 2,090 people found 83 per cent of respondents said they supported the goals of the demonstrators, but 72.5 per cent said they did not support violence as a method of protest.

Foreign Minister Teodoro Ribera said there was "no chance" the government would call off two major global meetings in Santiago in coming months, including welcoming U.S President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping.

With files from The Associated Press