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In win for protesters, Chile to vote on Pinochet-era constitution

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By Reuters
In win for protesters, Chile to vote on Pinochet-era constitution
FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators run for cover from a water jet sprayed from a riot police water cannon during a protest against Chile's government in Santiago, Chile November 14, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo   -   Copyright  Jorge Silva(Reuters)

By Dave Sherwood

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Lawmakers in Chile agreed on Friday to hold a referendum next April on replacing the Pinochet-era constitution, bowing to demands of protesters who want the country’s social and economic model overhauled.

Voters will be asked whether they approve the idea of a new constitution and whether current lawmakers should serve on the commission that would redraft the document.

The two-page “Agreement for Peace and a New Constitution,” signed after midnight following intense negotiations, calls for a “commitment to re-establish peace and public order in Chile.”

A month of protests has sowed chaos in the South American nation. Riots, arson and looting have killed more than 20 people, caused extensive damage and prompted President Sebastian Pinera to call soldiers on to the streets. The Chilean peso this week plunged to a new low against the dollar.

Though protesters lack a clear leader or spokesperson, a new constitution emerged quickly as an important demand. Critics say Chile´s existing Magna Carta, written and approved during General Augusto Pinochet’s 1973-1990 military dictatorship, lacks legitimacy.

Lawmakers revised the original 1980 document after Chile returned to democracy but many say it still falls short, failing to ensure for proper health care, education and citizen participation in government.

Opponents of an overhaul say the charter has been a pillar of stability for Chile, among the region’s strongest and most investor-friendly economies.

The details will be worked out by a constitutional convention whose composition will be determined in the April referendum. A second vote, in October 2020, will allow voters to select those who will finally serve on the convention.

A final vote on the draft itself will be obligatory for all voting age Chileans, according to the agreement.

(Editing by Timothy Heritage)