Police responded to stone-throwing masked demonstrators by spraying water cannons and firing rubber bullets and tear gas.

A group of protesters destroys a bus during an anti-government protest, in Santiago, Chile, Friday, March 13, 2020.
A group of protesters destroys a bus during an anti-government protest, in Santiago, Chile, Friday, March 13, 2020. (AP)

Anti-government protests continued in capital Santiago on Friday, although the number of protesters was low when compared to the start of the demonstrations that began in October last year.

Police responded to stone-throwing masked demonstrators by spraying water cannons and firing rubber bullets and tear gas.

Human rights groups have expressed concerns about how security forces have handled the protests.   

Since protests began, 26 people have died in protests that were sparked by an increase in subway fares in Santiago and transformed into a protest on wide-ranging issues of inequality.

Some 2,210 police have been reported injured during the protests and 188 police stations along with 971 police vehicles have been damaged.

Bans large public events over coronavirus fears, ahead of planned protests

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera announced a ban on public events with more than 500 people, as the government tries to curtail the spread of coronavirus even as massive social demonstrations are planned in the coming weeks.

Pinera also said people arriving in Chile from countries considered high-risk for the virus, including China, Italy and Spain, would have to quarantine for 14 days.

Chile has confirmed 43 cases of the coronavirus.

The ban on large public events, which will begin on Monday, could have implications for upcoming planned protests. 

Pinera, responding to protests, cracks down on white-collar crime

Pinera also announced new legislation to combat white collar crimes such as insider trading and collusion, the latest in a series of proposals aimed at quelling the demands of continuing protests over inequality.

Pinera shipped several bills to Congress to beef up penalties against colluding to fix prices on sensitive consumer products, while stiffening fines and jail time for financial crimes ranging from fraud to insider trading.

The legislation also provides regulators with more tools to investigate the crimes and establishes new protections for "whistleblowers" in both public and private sectors who come forward with evidence of crimes.

"The immense majority of Chileans want to build a more just, more equal Chile, without abuses or privileges. That's the message we have heard loud and clear from the people," Pinera said in a speech at the La Moneda presidential palace.

Price fixing and other financial crimes lie at the heart of recent protests over social and economic injustices in Chile that have left at least 31 dead and wrought billions in damages to business.

Since Chile's return to democracy in 1990, allegations of price fixing have cropped up in markets for items from chicken to diapers, milk, drugs, asphalt and even gynecological visits, outraging many Chileans, who demand changes to the country's economic model.

Anger over these abuses appears in graffiti spray-painted on building walls across Santiago, a city of 6 million, and in the signs carried by protesters rebuking such crimes.

"When these bills become law, we will have freer, more transparent markets, more competitive companies, products of higher quality and lower prices," Pinera said.

Chileans will vote on whether to rewrite the country's dictatorship-era constitution in April. Many have also called for tougher consumer protections to be worked into a new Magna Carta.

Pinera said on Friday he would soon announce further protections for consumer and worker rights

Source: AP