50,000 Chileans battle police against billionaire president

Reuters reports 50,000 protesters battled police in Chile’s capital on Thursday, the second day of a two-day strike against unpopular President Sebastian Pinera.

A recent poll put the right-wing leader’s approval rating at only 26%, below even that of dictator General Pinochet, who ruled the country for 17 years from 1973. The protests follows recent strikes in the copper sector over pay and a campaign against a massive coal mine on an island in Patagonia amid accusations that billionaire Pinera’s shareholding in the developer, Copec, constitutes a serious conflict of interest.

Public transportation was running, and operations at some of the world’s biggest copper mines were not affected by the protests that also seek to pressure the government into raising wages and revamping the constitution and tax system.

Reuters quotes Fernando Soto, an analyst at Banchile Inversiones: “It’s unlikely to affect direct foreign investment. There could be some short-term effects on investment portfolios … out of fear more than anything.”

MINING.com reported last week that the Isla Riesco coal project could be Pinera’s final undoing. Protesters maintain mining will directly and negatively affect the local environment and that burning the relatively low-quality coal from the will commit Chile to 25 years of “dirty energy.”

Isla Riesco near the southern tip of South America covers 5,110 square kilometres and holds Chile’s largest known coal deposits thought to contain more than 300 million tonnes. Mining activity dates back to the 19th century.

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