SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile’s embattled President Sebastian Pinera has rejected the notion of resigning and believes he will reach the end of his term in just over two years despite intense anti-government protests that are roiling the country, according to an interview with the BBC.
Pinera said he was “democratically elected by a huge majority of Chileans,” and that while he accepted responsibility for entrenched inequality that was driving the protests, he was not “the only one.”
The 69-year-old billionaire told the British broadcaster that the protests had changed “everything” in the nation once held up as a beacon of stability in the region, but added: “I hope for the better.”
“I have faith in my duty as president and I swear to comply with that duty, to improve the quality of life of our citizens,” he said.
At least 18 people have died and thousands been injured after two weeks of rioting, protests and looting. The protests started over a hike in public transport fares but have broadened to include poor pensions, the high costs of utilities, medication and road tolls as well as patchy public services such as healthcare and education.
Pinera responded by declaring a state of emergency and sending the army into the streets, telling the nation: “We are at war against a powerful enemy.”
Last week, he sacked eight cabinet ministers, including those for the interior and finance, and announced a new social plan that included bolstering the minimum wage and pensions payouts.
Massive protests continued on Tuesday in Chile with lower-level violence, and sustained calls for Pinera to resign.
The center-right president was elected late in 2017 with 54.47% of the vote but now has an approval rating of just 14%, the lowest since the 1973-1990 military rule of dictator Augusto Pinochet.
He now faces a congressional bid to remove him from office, brought by opposition parties who accuse him of being responsible for systematic human rights violations during the protests.
The motion has been raised in the lower house and, if endorsed, would require the approval of two thirds of the Senate. Pinera’s coalition does not hold a majority in either house, which is divided roughly in half.
Pinera rejected the move.
“I am absolutely certain that none of these accusations will prosper because the solution in democracy is to respect the rules,” he told the BBC.
He said accusations of rights abuses would be investigated, adding: “There will be no impunity.”
He dismissed claims his social plan was “cosmetic.” “These problems have been accumulated over 30 years,” he said. “What is important now is how as a society we react to what people are asking.”
Reporting by Fabian Cambero and Aislinn Laing; Editing by Bernadette Baum