Rioting, arson attacks and violent clashes wracked Chile for a fifth day on Tuesday as the death toll rose to 15 in an upheaval that has almost paralysed the country.
President Sebastián Piñera announced a program on Tuesday night calling for modest boosts to the lowest incomes and increased taxes on the wealthiest as he sought to calm anger in the streets.
About half of Chile’s 16 regions remained under an emergency decree and some were a under military curfew.
The curfew is the first — other than for natural disasters — imposed since the country returned to democracy in 1990 following a bloody 17-year dictatorship.
Unrest flared in the traditionally stable country last week when a relatively minor rise – less than 4% – in subway fares led to students jumping station turnstiles in protest.
The defiance exploded into violence on Friday with demonstrators setting fire to subway stations, buses and a high-rise building.
Demonstrations escalated with wide-ranging demands for improvements in education, health care and wages, and spread nationwide, fuelled by frustration among many Chileans who feel they have not shared in the economic advances in one of Latin America’s wealthiest nations.
Riot police used tear gas and water cannons on Tuesday to break up marches by rock-throwing demonstrators in several parts of Santiago, while soldiers and police guarded other Chileans who formed long lines at supermarkets.
“I’ve walked several kilometres searching for milk, but the supermarkets remain closed and neighbourhood stores have run out,” said Carmen Fuentealba, a retiree.
Many stores, subway stations and banks were burned, damaged or looted during protests over the weekend, and some people have reported problems getting cash at ATMs.
Shortly before the rioting broke out last week, Chile’s conservative president boasted in an interview with The Financial Times that Chile “looks like an oasis” in the region because it has a stable democracy and a balanced and growing economy that has been creating jobs and improving pay.
But the wealth is unevenly spread, with one of the region’s highest rates of inequality. Many Chilean families earn $550 to $700 a month (£428 to £544) and pensions can be as low as $159 (£123).
Long lines of cars also continued to snake from petrol stations as drivers worried about supplies in a country that imports nearly all of its gasoline.