Chile’s president Sebastián Piñera requested the resignation of his entire cabinet on Saturday in a bid to defuse a political crisis that erupted with mass protests a week ago over inequality in one of Latin America’s wealthiest countries.
The centre-right leader also pledged to cancel a state of emergency by the end of Sunday after Chile’s armed forces lifted curfews in Santiago and other major cities on Saturday. Civil unrest has died down even as broader, more peaceful protests gather momentum.
Officials confirmed that some 1.2m protesters descended peacefully on Plaza Italia in downtown Santiago on Friday in what is being hailed as the largest demonstration in the country’s history. As many as 2m of Chile’s 18m population took to the streets nationwide.
“We have all listened to the message. We have all changed. With unity and help from God, we will follow the path to that better Chile for everyone,” tweeted the centre-right president on Friday night, commending the “happy and peaceful” protests.
Several key ministers were quick to come out in support Mr Piñera’s decision to appoint a new cabinet, which the billionaire former businessman said was aimed at “confronting these new demands and taking charge of these new times.”
At least 19 people have died in the turmoil that has gripped Chile, with Mr Piñera becoming the first Chilean leader to bring troops on to the streets since the fall of the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet in 1990.
Normality is gradually returning, with public transport services being reinstated and shops reopening after the unrest that began as a protest over a 3 per cent rise in metro fares spiralled into a mass movement over inequality and high living costs.
The Chilean stock market suffered its worst week in two years, falling by almost 5 per cent, while the peso weakened by more than 2 per cent. Santiago’s chamber of commerce estimated that the protests had cost business some $1.4bn. Just over $900m of the losses were due to looting, and the remainder in missed sales.
“A peaceful day that will leave its mark on our history. Chile is not the same as it was yesterday. Politics didn’t change it. It is politics that must change,” tweeted Felipe Kast, a senator for the ruling coalition, referring to the demonstration on Friday.
Although doubts persist over whether conditions are suitable for Chile to host two major international summits soon, foreign minister Teodoro Ribera said on Thursday that there was “no chance” of calling off the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in mid-November or the UN climate change conference COP25 in December.
Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish climate activist who is expected to attend the COP25 meetings, posted images on Twitter of the mass demonstration in Santiago on Saturday, commenting: “A beautiful sight. My thoughts are with the people of Chile.”