By G9ija

Demonstrators set a riot police vehicle on fire during clashes on the commemoration of the first anniversary of the social uprising in Chile, in Santiago, on October 18, 2020, as the country prepares for a landmark referendum. – Changing the constitution enacted under former dictator Augusto Pinochet, who ruled from 1973-90, was a key demand of protesters during the two months of violent civil unrest against the government and inequality. Chileans will be asked two questions on October 25: do they want a new constitution and who should draft it.

Two churches were torched as tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered Sunday in a central Santiago square to mark the anniversary of a protest movement that broke out last year demanding greater equality in Chile.

The demonstration comes just a week before Chileans vote in a referendum on whether to replace the dictatorship-era constitution — one of the key demands when the protest movement began in October 2019.

While the morning brought a largely festive atmosphere to the protests at Plaza Italia, there were several incidences of violence, looting and vandalism in the afternoon.

One church close to Plaza Italia was burned to the ground as hooded protesters cheered, while a second-place of worship was looted and also suffered fire damage.

Firefighters managed to get that blaze under control.

“Burning churches is an expression of brutality,” said Minister of the Interior and Security Víctor Perez, adding that the violence was coming from a “minority” of protesters.

The small Church of the Assumption, which was totally destroyed, is known as the “artists’ parish,” according to local press. The building dated back to 1876.

There were clashes between groups of football hooligans in one Santiago neighborhood, while protesters in Plaza Italia doused a statue with red paint.

The communist mayor of a neighbourhood near the central square, Daniel Jadue, was hounded out of Plaza Italia by protesters.

Yet it was a different feeling in the morning when demonstrators, many wearing masks to protect against the coronavirus pandemic, held up banners, sang and danced. Police even gradually pulled back from the Plaza Italia.

“It’s great, very good and positive,” demonstrator Viviana Donoso, 43, told AFP as she and a group of people danced to drums.

“The people of Chile need to unite, and we have to believe that we can do things.”