Violent street demonstrations disrupted Chile’s major cities Wednesday as politicians opposed to the dictatorial rule of President Augusto Pinochet issued a peaceful demand for political change.
A teen-ager was killed by gunfire as roving bands of Communist-led demonstrators and riot police fought daylong skirmishes through the streets of Santiago.
The focus of the clashes, the most disruptive protests this year, shifted from schools in the downtown area during the day to the slums ringing the capital at night.
Protesters taunted heavily armed police and soldiers late Wednesday with burning barricades across major arteries. Parts of Santiago were without lights Wednesday night, presumably the result of attacks on power lines.
The democratic political parties, which did not support the Communist Party-organized street protests, instead began what they called a campaign to win public support for a proposed transition to elected government.
Confronted by demonstrators as he left a Rotary Club luncheon, the unyielding Pinochet expressed his disdain for them by eschewing a waiting motorcade and instead returning by foot to his palace two blocks away.
‘A Soft Dictatorship’
“This is not a hard dictatorship but a soft dictatorship. If necessary, we will tighten the grip,” Pinochet told applauding luncheon guests. He will observe his 12th anniversary in power next Wednesday.
Reinforced by troops in some parts of the city, riot police used clubs, tear gas and water cannons to disperse thousands of generally youthful protesters who chanted anti-government slogans, hurled rocks and erected crude street barricades. By one early police count, about 200 people have been arrested in Santiago, about two dozen of them for looting shops attacked by demonstrators. Reports of demonstrations and arrests in other major cities trickled into the capital Wednesday night.
In what was officially described as “a confusing incident,” 16-year-old protester Juan Pardo died of bullet wounds in a western district of the capital.
He was said to have been among about 100 demonstrators who attacked a community center named after Pinochet’s wife while it was being guarded by police and troops. One opposition radio station said a soldier had fired the fatal shot.
11-Year-Old Boy Shot
An 11-year-old boy was shot and slightly wounded by soldiers during a clash in a slum near Santiago’s international airport, police also reported. At least two dozen people were injured in Santiago, eight of them commuters whose buses were attacked by demonstrators during the morning rush hour.
Disorders and a partial strike by bus owners, who were acting either in support of the demonstrators or in fear for their safety, paralyzed parts of Santiago and the provincial capitals of Valparaiso and Concepcion, where police reported 98 arrests. Demonstrators interrupted train service between Santiago and the rest of the country with barricades thrown across tracks outside the capital.
Only about 20% of Santiago buses ran Wednesday morning, and even fewer at night. The government closed three universities for the day, and public school attendance in the capital was about one-third of normal, officials said.
Chilean press accounts said the day of protest was the largest since October, 1984, and as disruptive as any since his opponents began to challenge the Chilean strongman in the streets in 1983.
Communists the Driving Force
The proscribed but active Chilean Communist Party, the driving force behind Wednesday’s demonstrations, supports violence as a means of ousting Pinochet.
Other Chilean political parties called for specific protests against the 69-year-old army general who openly disparages politicians of every stripe--particularly the Communists--and vows to remain in office at least until 1989.