Clashes erupt as Chile president seeks to regain popularity

Rally turns violent as masked protesters hurl stones and other projectiles at police outside Congress, as Chilean president seeks to get reform agenda back on track in annual address

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Chile’s embattled president Michelle Bachelet said on Thursday her administration will push forward with contested legislative reforms, seeking in her annual State of the Union speech to regain political popularity by unveiling the details of a raft of new bills.

A number of corruption scandals have hurt Bachalet’s image, causing the approval rating of the center-left president drop to its lowest level from well over 50 percent when she took office for her second term in March 2014 to 29 percent last month, a historic low for the two-time president.

Last week the president replaced five ministers and moved four to new positions in a wide-ranging reshuffle that sought to draw a line under financial scandals that have shaken Chile’s political establishment.

Bachelet lived up to a promise that she gave during her 2013 election campaign by announcing a bill to provide free university education to 260,000 of Chile’s poorest students

However, the bill did little to soothe the thousands of protesters demonstrating outside the Congress in the port city of Valparaiso.

The rally turned violent in Valparaiso, leaving one student in critical condition.

Twenty people were wounded, including a student who suffered a severe wound to the head, said police - who made 37 arrests - the AFP news agency reported.

She also talked about included pensions, energy costs and housing subsidies as she seeks to make good on promises to reduce sharp inequality in the South American country.

Bachelet also spoke of building a new Chilean Constitution to replace the current one that dates from the dictatorship-era, another election pledge, but disappointed some lawmakers who had hoped she would outline how that would work on Thursday.

Chile’s current constitution was ratified in a controversial plebiscite on September 11,1980, under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

TRTWorld and agencies