President of Chile causes irritation with quarantine visit to plaza epicenter of protests

SANTIAGO, Apr 3 (Reuters) – Chilean President Sebastián Piñera caused irritation on Friday by posing for photos in the plaza that became the epicenter of anti-government protests before a quarantine was imposed to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The images of Piñera being seen in the now empty Plaza Italia (popularly renamed Plaza de la Dignidad) on Friday afternoon, sitting in shirt sleeves at the foot of an equestrian monument full of graffiti calling for his resignation, quickly went viral on social media.

At least 31 people died, 3,000 were injured, and 30,000 more were detained in the protests, which started in October due to rising public transport fares and expanded to include claims about pensions, health, education and elitism, among others.

The area around Plaza Italia is under a strict quarantine that covers large parts of Santiago and prevents people from leaving their homes without specific permission from the authorities. Chile has 3,737 confirmed cases of coronavirus to date, with 22 deaths.

Heraldo Muñoz, president of the center-left Party for Democracy (PPD), wrote on Twitter that what Piñera did “divides the country when unity is required.”

“Incredible! Pdte Piñera walks through Plaza Italia / Dignidad while the government asks people to stay home. This is a provocation and irresponsibility, inappropriate for a head of state in the midst of a pandemic crisis,” he added.

The center-right president said the brief stop was a spontaneous decision when he returned home.

“I got off for a couple of minutes to greet a group of police and military personnel who were helping to direct the traffic, I took a photo of myself and continued on my way. I am sorry if this action could be misinterpreted,” he tweeted.

Illapu, one of the most beloved gangs in Chile, said that Piñera’s actions are at risk of causing more protests when the coronavirus crisis ends.

“The square of dignity belongs to the people !!! We will return with more force and we will be millions !!”, they tweeted.

(Edited in Spanish by Carlos Serrano)