Protests paralyze southern Chile

Protesters in the southern Chile region of Magallanes y Antártica Chilena have erected road blockades, halting traffic and leaving hundreds of foreign tourists stranded. The strike was triggered by a government plan to increase gas prices in southern Chile by nearly 17%. On Jan. 11, two young Chilean women were killed when a truck smashed through one of the blockades. Protesters have repeatedly clashed with police, who have used teargas to restore order. The crisis has prompted a cabinet shake-up, with energy minister Ricardo Raineri removed by President Sebastian Piñera for mis-handling talks with the protesters. (BBC News, LAHT, Jan. 15; BBC Mundo, Jan. 12)

Some 2,500 tourists and others are stranded on Tierra del Fuego, as passenger ferries linking the island to Punta Arenas are halted by the general strike. The city of Punta Arenas is itself effectively shut down, and routes in and out of Torres del Paine National Park have been blocked.

Workers at state-owned Empresa Nacional del Petroleo (ENAP) are threatening to cut off supplies of natural gas to Canadian ethanol producer Methanex if the Chilean government does not make concessions to residents. ÔÇťThe gas is for Magallanes first and then for private enterprise,” said union leader Alejandro Avenda├▒o. A second round of talks is set to begin in Punta Arenas between officials and the Citizens Assembly of Magallanes, which called the strike. (EFE, Jan. 15)

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