Chilean government invokes security law

SANTIAGO — The Chilean government has invoked a state security law in the hope of quelling unrest sparked by its decision to raise gas prices.

The Internal Security Law allows authorities to use the military to maintain public order as well as to triple judicial sanctions against those detained under the statute.

“The government has decided to take legal action using the Internal Security Law,” Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter said in a statement.

“Our government is in favor of dialog,” he added. “But our duty is also to warn and to maintain public order.”

Two women were killed and 34 people were arrested in a violent protest in the southern city of Punta Arenas over a planned hike in natural gas prices last week.

The women were killed late Tuesday when a pickup truck slammed into a barricade that had been erected by protesters.

Protests continued Wednesday in Punta Arenas, a city of 140,000 people some 3,000 kilometers (1,860 miles) south of Santiago.

Natural gas prices are heavily subsidized in the country’s far south, which is cold most of the year.

Local union leaders had called a general strike in protest against the price hikes.

Starting February 1, the price of natural gas is supposed to rise 17 percent. But even with the planned hike, the local subsidized rate is eight times less than consumers pay in the rest of Chile.

Demonstrators have blocked the city’s port and kept people from getting off cruise ships and other boats that make port calls on the way to Antarctica or around the Strait of Magellan.

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