Chileans took to the streets again on Tuesday, pouring by the thousands into plazas and shutting down main boulevards in a sign that government promises of reform continued to fall short. Police in armoured trucks watched over the gathering masses.
The night before, vandals wreaked havoc nearby, looting, setting fires and sowing chaos amid a melee of sirens, protesters banging pots and heavy black smoke.
President Sebastian Piñera's newly appointed spokeswoman Karla Rubilar condemned the previous night's mayhem, saying it did not reflect the wishes of the majority.
The violence is over-taking the legitimate demands of the social movement, Rubilar told reporters in the capital Santiago. She called on all Chileans, from soccer players to cultural icons, to reject the rioting.
Days earlier, more than a million Chileans marched peacefully against inequality in Santiago, the largest protest since Chile's return to democracy in 1990.
The continuing unrest in Chile follows a week of riots, arson and protests over inequality that have resulted in at least 20 dead and 7,000 arrested, prosecutors said. Chilean businesses lost more than US$ 1.4 billion. The city's metro suffered nearly US$ 400 million in damages.
Protests over a hike in metro fares spun out of control earlier this month, prompting Piñera to pledge sweeping social and economic reforms, and to upend his cabinet.
Chile, the world's top copper producer, has long boasted one of Latin America's most prosperous free-market economies. A plummeting copper price and global trade tensions, however, have dragged on the export-dependent economy and exposed entrenched inequality.
A putrid blend of smoldering fire from an overnight blaze downtown and tear gas hung heavily over Santiago through much of Tuesday. Chileans in business attire wore makeshift masks or wet towels over their faces as they headed to and from work. Many schools and businesses remained closed, or shut early.
Students, unions and other social groups have joined the Chile protests in massive numbers, but a leader or spokesperson has yet to emerge. Chile's fractured opposition parties have supported the demonstrations but have not led them, leaving a power vacuum that has hindered negotiation with the masses and left little end in sight.
A U.N. spokesman on Tuesday said its human rights office was very concerned by the violence and destruction, and said it would soon send a mission to Chile to investigate human rights abuses.
The protests have ground Santiago to a near halt for more than a week. Rioters have looted more than 600 businesses, including many supermarkets and electronics shops. An iconic mall and shops in the mirror-windowed Costanera Center, South America's tallest building, remained closed on Tuesday.