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Chile's Pinera to crack down on vandals, looters

Credit: REUTERS/GUSTAVO GRAF

Chile's President Sebastian Pinera announced a battery of measures on Thursday to tighten security and increase penalties for vandals as ongoing riots, looting and violence have left at least 20 dead over two weeks of protests.

Adds comments from President Pinera, background

SANTIAGO, Nov 7 (Reuters) - Chile's President Sebastian Pinera announced a battery of measures on Thursday to tighten security and increase penalties for vandals as ongoing riots, looting and violence have left at least 20 dead over two weeks of protests.

Pinera said he would send bills to Chile's congress to toughen penalties against looting, acts of violence or destruction committed during protests. The penalties would increase if the acts are carried out by hooded vandals trying to hide their identities.

He also unveiled plans to beef up intelligence activities amid the continuing protests, and to more than double police aerial surveillance.

"One of the principal responsibilities of the state is to ensure public order and security," Pinera said in a televised speech. He added that police and security forces in Chile had "total support" from his administration.

Chile's worst unrest since the end of Augusto Pinochet's 1973-1990 dictatorship has led to more than 7,000 arrests, and injuries to 1,659 protesters and 800 police officers, according to authorities and rights groups.

Prosecutors are also investigating more than 800 allegations of abuse, including torture, rape and beatings by security forces during demonstrations that have often degenerated into riots.

The unrest has grown less violent in recent days but has shown little signs of subsiding.

On Wednesday evening, hooded vandals attacked several shops, cafes and the headquarters of a right wing political parties in one of Santiago's more upscale neighborhoods.

(Reporting by Dave Sherwood and Anthony Esposito; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Richard Chang)

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

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