SANTIAGO, Chile — Violent protests broke out in Chile on Saturday as President Michelle Bachelet presented a state-of-the-nation report to Congress.
One man died of asphyxiation after masked demonstrators burned a pharmacy and a supermarket in downtown Valparaíso, which is where the South American nation’s congress meets.
Local TV broadcast images of smoke rising from different parts of the city. Government spokesman Marcelo Díaz condemned the man’s death in comments to TVN television. The man was identified as 71-year-old Eduardo Lara, who worked as a guard for the municipality.
“Our condolences got to the family of Eduardo Lara. We reject, condemn and are overwhelmed by the fact that the demonstrations ended in the death of a worker,” said Díaz.
The protest began as a peaceful march but turned rough as some demonstrators threw rocks at police and gasoline bombs at buildings. Officers responded with tear gas and high-pressure blasts of water.
Historically, protests in the city to mark the date cause widespread material damages, but this time the fires got out of hand, consuming businesses and a municipal office. Some of the fires burned for hours after the demonstration.
Bachelet was elected in December 2013 to a second non-consecutive term promising to reduce income inequality and carry out other reforms. But her approval ratings have plummeted amid an economic downturn and a corruption scandal involving her family.
In her address Saturday, Bachelet emphasized achievements such as a reform guaranteeing free education. She called it a process from which “there is no turning back.”
“If we don’t make the changes now with everyone working together, the tensions and obstacles will grow and our opportunity to progress will be frustrated,” she said.