President sends bill to lawmakers to allow military to protect public infrastructure, as protests that have left 26 dead continue

Chiles President Sebastin Piera has asked lawmakers to allow troops back on the streets to defend key public infrastructure, despite fresh reports of grave abuses by security forces over five weeks of riots.

The continuing protests in Chile over inequality and a shortfall in some social services have left at least 26 dead and thousands injured. They have also hobbled the capitals public transport system, once the envy of Latin America, and caused billions in losses for private business.

Riots have erupted in countries across Latin America, including Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia in recent weeks as regional unrest has spiraled into violence and demands for broad-based reforms.

Piera sent a bill to Congress on Tuesday morning to allow the military to protect transmission lines, electric plants, airports, hospitals and other public infrastructure in order to assure basic services.

He said the move would free up the police force to protect the security of our citizens.

Pieras announcement came shortly after the international rights group Human Rights Watch said in a report that police had brutally beaten protesters, shot teargas cartridges directly at them and run over some with official vehicles or motorcycles.

There are hundreds of worrying reports of excessive force on the streets and abuse of detainees, said Jos Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watchs Americas division, after meeting with Piera on Tuesday.

The group stopped short of alleging the abuses had been systematic, but its conclusions were in line with a report last week by Amnesty International on the seriousness of many violations. More than 200 Chileans have suffered severe eye injuries alone in clashes with police using rubber bullets.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have recommended an immediate overhaul of police protocols and accountability measures to address the mounting allegations of abuse. Police and military officials have said any cases of alleged abuse are under investigation by civilian courts.

Roadblocks snarled traffic around the Chilean capital Santiago on Tuesday around midday, as protesters set up burning barricades on major streets and highways around the city.

Police used water cannons to disperse protesters in front of the La Moneda presidential palace shortly after Pieras speech there. Many took to the citys main boulevard afterward, bringing traffic to a standstill.

In his speech, Piera listed reforms, from boosting the minimum wage to slashing the prices of medicines and public transportation, aimed at quelling the protests.

The countrys normally fractious political parties have also agreed to work together on a new constitution.

But protests continue, in smaller numbers but with intense violence at their fringes, driven by mistrust that politicians will keep their promises to bring significant change, and enduring fury over the police handling of demonstrators.



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