Two churches were torched as tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered on Sunday in a central Santiago square to mark the anniversary of a protest movement that broke out last year demanding greater equality in Chile.
The demonstration comes just a week before Chileans vote in a referendum on whether to replace the dictatorship-era constitution, one of the key demands when the protest movement began on October 18 last year.
While the morning brought a largely festive atmosphere to the protests at Plaza Italia, there were several incidents of violence, looting and vandalism in the afternoon.
One church close to Plaza Italia was burned to the ground as hooded protesters cheered, while a second place of worship was looted and also suffered fire damage.
For Victor Hugo de la Fuente, a journalist and manager at the Chilean edition of Le Monde Diplomatique, happiness reigned amongst protesters “due to the possibility of progressing and achieving a fairer and more democratic Chile”.
Demonstrators also called for their countrymen to vote to “approve” the proposed constitutional change.
The government of President Sebastian Pinera, one of the protesters’ main targets, called on demonstrators to be peaceful and to respect coronavirus restrictions.
The epidemic has left 13,600 Chileans dead with more than 491,000 infected.
Protests broke out a year ago initially as a response to a hike in metro fares, before mushrooming into a general demonstration against inequality and the government.