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Amid protests, Chile moves towards dumping Pinochet-era constitution

Credit: REUTERS/JORGE SILVA

Chilean lawmakers agreed on Friday to hold a referendum next April on replacing the country's unpopular Pinochet-era constitution, bowing to demands of protesters who say the country's decades-old social model has created deep inequality.

By Dave Sherwood

SANTIAGO, Nov 15 (Reuters) - Chilean lawmakers agreed on Friday to hold a referendum next April on replacing the country's unpopular Pinochet-era constitution, bowing to demands of protesters who say the country's decades-old social model has created deep inequality.

The move, agreed in the early hours of the morning, boosted the country's battered markets, with the Chilean peso and the domestic equities market climbing strongly.

Amid protests that have raged for a month in the South American nation, Chile's existing Magna Carta, written and approved during General Augusto Pinochet's 1973-1990 military dictatorship, has become a lightning rod for anger.

Voters will be asked whether they approve the idea of a new constitution and whether current lawmakers should serve on the commission that would redraft the document.

The two-page "Agreement for Peace and a New Constitution," signed after midnight following intense negotiations, calls for a "commitment to re-establish peace and public order in Chile."

Riots, arson and looting have killed more than 20 people, caused extensive damage and prompted President Sebastian Pinera to call soldiers onto the streets. The Chilean peso this week plunged to a new low against the dollar.

Lawmakers revised the original 1980 document after Chile returned to democracy, but many say it still falls short, failing to ensure for proper healthcare, education and citizen participation in government.

Opponents of an overhaul say the charter has been a pillar of stability for Chile, among the region's strongest and most investor-friendly economies.

The details will be worked out by a constitutional convention whose composition will be determined in the April referendum. A second vote, in October 2020, will allow voters to select those who will finally serve on the convention.

A final vote on the draft itself will be obligatory for all voting age Chileans, according to the agreement.

(Editing by Timothy Heritage and Bill Berkrot)

((dave.sherwood@thomsonreuters.com; +56 9 9138 1047, +56 2 2370 4224; Reuters Messaging: dave.sherwood.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

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