Latin America & Caribbean

Chile: Valparaiso protesters in clashes with police

Police and demonstrators clash in Valparaiso on 21 May 2011
Image caption Police dispersed demonstrators with a water cannon

Police in Valparaiso, in Chile, have clashed with demonstrators protesting against government policies.

A protest march was timed to coincide with President Sebastian Pinera's annual state of the nation address.

Demonstrators held up signs opposing the government's environmental, education and labour policies.

Many said they had come to protest against a hydro-electric dam project in southern Chile, which they say will destroy 6,000 hectares of forest.

The march had been called by one of the country's main trade union movements, the CUT.

CUT officials said they wanted President Pinera to fulfil his campaign promises.

Vocal opponents

They were joined in their protest by student leaders who said that President Pinera's environmental, education and labour policies were going "in the opposite way from those the population were demanding".

Many environmental groups also joined the march to voice their opposition to the HidroAysen project, which would see two rivers in Patagonia dammed to provide electricity.

Image caption There were scuffles inside the National Congress when police removed some of the protesters

Opponents of the project say the dams will have a disastrous effect on the environment, destroying large swathes of forest.

But the government says the project is needed to meet Chile's increasing demand for electricity and is expected to give final approval in June.

During his state of the nation address, President Pinera was repeatedly interrupted by opponents of the project.

A group of opposition politicians unfurled a banner reading "No to HidroAysen, Patagonia without dams" inside the Congress building in Valparaiso.

President Pinera responded by saying that he was well aware of his responsibility for the environment, but that he also had a clear responsibility for the country's development.

"We can't say we need energy, consume it abundantly, and at the same time oppose all of its sources," he added.

He said a commission of experts would take the citizens' views into account while it was evaluating the project.

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