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The incident comes amid protests that began in mid-October when students jumped subway turnstiles to protest a rise in ticket prices. It has since swelled into a sustained movement that includes middle-class Chileans, and some from sectors that include union workers and professionals. The demonstrators are demanding political and economic transformation that they call “a new social pact.”
In response to the protests, which have already resulted in as many as 20 deaths as well as thousands of injuries and arrests, President Sebastián Piñera declared the country was at war — which only served to intensify the protesters’ furor.
As videos of Thursday’s attack circulated on social media, people attempted to identify the car and its driver. Some pointed out that after the car drove off, a similar-looking vehicle was seen entering a local police station in Antofagasta.
By Thursday night, the Chilean national police force confirmed the attack took place, tweeting that the person responsible had been delivered to their headquarters in Antofagasta. A photo of the suspect’s car showed numerous dents and cracks on the windshield.
In hundreds of replies on social media, people expressed doubts about the police account, suggesting the driver may have actually been an officer. But police moved quickly to shut down those theories, saying reports that suggested otherwise were fake, using the English-language hashtag “#fakenews.”
An Amnesty International report released Thursday concluded that Piñera has exerted a “policy of punishment” against the people of Chile. The report says five people have died at the hands of security forces, but other independent and local sources have figures up to 20. More than 2,300 people have been injured, and the public prosecutor’s office has registered more than 1,100 complaints of “torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” according to Amnesty International — including 70 sex crimes committed by public officials.
The armed forces responded to the Amnesty International report in a written statement, saying the report contained “no evidence, direct or indirect” and that their intention had always been to “protect the people, the rights of our people, and the critical infrastructure of our country given grave violent crimes that were being committed.”
In recent days, however, Piñera admitted that the police and military had used excessive force in some instances. Police have suspended the use of rubber bullets after reports of terrible eye injuries.
“There was excessive use of force, abuse and crimes, and human rights were not respected,” he said in a televised speech at the presidential palace.