A woman struggles with riot police during clashes

Thousands took to the streets of Chile's capital Santiago to mark International Women's Day on Sunday, calling for equality and an end to violence, as scattered clashes broke out at points when demonstrators threw rocks at police, who responded with water cannons.

The crowd of thousands flooded the streets of the capital with dancing, music, holding up signs demanding gender equality.

"We are supposed to be here to celebrate International Women's Day but rather we are here to protest, fighting for equality, so they don't kill us, so they don't rape us," said one protester.

National police estimated 125,000 took part in the capital and nearly 35,000 in other cities, but organisers said the crowds were far larger.

Many protesters demanded that a proposed new constitution strengthen rights for women and thousands wore green scarves in a show of support for activists in neighbouring Argentina, which is considering a proposal to legalise elective abortion.

Clashes broke out between police and protesters Sunday as hundreds of thousands of women marched in Santiago to demand an end to violence against women.

The protesters gathered at the Plaza Italia, one of the main hubs for the more than four months of anti-government demonstrations, and filled the nearby streets. They then marched up Alameda Avenue, one of the main thoroughfares in the Chilean capital, chanting and singing as they went.

"It's great to see so many women today," Elizabeth, one of the demonstrators, told AFP. She came out to demand protection of indigenous women's rights.

"I love when women put their ovaries to the side and become empowered, move forward and change everything."

Small clashes broke out near the presidential palace, which was under heavy police protection, when demonstrators tried to clear security barriers. Police drove them back with tear gas and water cannon.

Protesters also unfurled a banner outside the palace demanding Pinera's resignation.

Many of the women wore green headscarves, symbolising the fight for abortion rights, or purple scarves with "NiUnaMenos" (roughly, We can't lose one more woman) -- an anti-femicide rallying cry -- written on them.

More than 125,000 people marched, according to police estimates. Protest organisers put the number at 500,000.

The protest stretched for at least four kilometres (2.5 miles), according to AFP journalists.

More than 30 people have died in Chile since protests began last October with the announcement of a modest hike in metro transport fares.

The demonstrations, the worst since the fall of Pinochet's dictatorship in 1990, have mushroomed to encompass wider discontent over social and economic woes.

The aim is to pressure Pinera's conservative government to expand social reforms it has already proposed in order to quell violent protests which began last October