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Chileans suffering eye trauma from protests march on presidential palace

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By Reuters
Chileans suffering eye trauma from protests march on presidential palace
A woman holds a placard as she attends a demonstration in support of people that have been hit in the eye during recent protests in Santiago, Chile November 28, 2019. The placard reads: "Until living in Chile doesn't cost an eye." REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado   -   Copyright  IVAN ALVARADO(Reuters)

By Aislinn Laing

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – A group of Chileans who claim to have suffered eye trauma in confrontations with the security forces rallied outside the presidential palace on Thursday to call for President Sebastian Pinera to “take responsibility” for human rights violations during the ongoing protests.

The group´s coordinator Marta Valdes Recabarren, whose 17-year-old son Edgardo partially lost sight in his left eye after a tear gas cannister hit him during a protest on Oct. 18, said rallies outside La Moneda would continue until Pinera “takes responsibility for the repression of the Chilean people.”

“We cannot return to the impunity of 1973,” she said, referring to the year General Augusto Pinochet led a coup in Chile. “This should not be happening in Chile in 2019.”

For more than five weeks now peaceful protests and violent riots have taken place across Chile over low wages, the high cost of living and persistent inequality.

At least 26 people have been killed, more than 13,000 have been injured and 25,000 have been detained amid demonstrations, looting and arson attacks on supermarkets, metro stations, hotels and churches.

The Chilean Ophthalmological Society said 221 people had suffered from severe eye trauma in the demonstrations, mostly due to police rubber bullets.

Pinera has vowed that any violations of human rights by security forces will be investigated.

But he has also hardened his tone again to address those behind the frequent surges in violence that on Tuesday night saw almost 100 arson and looting attacks and clashes with police recorded around the country by the interior ministry.

On Thursday he said police were facing a “powerful and implacable enemy.. working with professional planning and unlimited evil.”

Without identifying the perpetrators, he urged recruits at a police training academy to act with neither “ambiguity or half-measures” towards “hoodies, looters and vandals, nor those who put up barricades or obstruct traffic.”

Rafael Zambrano, 23, said he suffered a detached retina and head injuries after police fired a water canon on him at close range during a protest in central Santiago. He rejected the suggestion the violence was driven by criminality.

“We ARE fighting a powerful enemy: President Pinera and his security forces,” he said. “What threat was I to police? I had no way to harm them, just words.”

The economic impact of Chile´s unrest on Thursday saw the local peso currency plummeted to a new low for the second day in a row at market close to 828.2 per dollar.

Chilean police did not respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Aislinn Laing, additional reporting by Fabian Cambero and Dave Sherwood; Editing by Alistair Bell)