One of the biggest protests to engulf Chile’s capital Santiago over the last week turned violent on Friday night, with police firing tear gas and water canons.
As many as one million Chilean protesters flooded the city in the afternoon in a peaceful march, waving national flags, dancing, banging pots with wooden spoons and bearing placards demanding political, economic and social reforms.
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.
But as darkness fell and many of the protesters left for the day ahead of an 11:00 pm military curfew, violence erupted, with police firing tear gas and water cannons at demonstrators who had converged on a public square.
BREAKING: "This is a historical day for Chile," says the govt official who tweeted this video. Nearly 1 million protesters are in the streets of Santagio, Chile, now. Internet service is slowing down, as people use social media to make sure the world knows.pic.twitter.com/sUZ3GM4AR7
— David Begnaud (@DavidBegnaud) October 25, 2019
Two protesters could be seen hurling flaming molotov cocktails that exploded near a security force vehicle spraying protesters with gas.
The police then moved up the boulevard from Plaza Italia, firing more water cannons to disperse the crowd.
Earlier that morning in the port city of Valparaiso, Chile’s congress was evacuated after angry protesters tried to force their way into the building’s grounds, overwhelming security forces.
Police fired tear gas at hundreds of demonstrators who had gathered on the perimeter as lawmakers and administrative staff rushed out of the legislative building.
At least 18 people — including a child — have died in the turmoil that has swept the country since last Friday, with five people killed at the hands of the armed forces.
Santiago Governor Karla Rubilar said a million people marched in the capital on Friday — more than 5 percent of the country’s population.
Protesters elsewhere took to the streets in every major Chilean city.