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Chile protest marred as teenager falls from bridge amid police clashes

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - A protest in Chilean capital Santiago was marred by a controversial incident late on Friday when a teenage boy fell from a bridge into a river during police clashes, with demonstrators alleging security forces were to blame.

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Video of the fall into the shallow river went viral in the country, which almost exactly a year ago was rocked by huge protests that left 31 dead, thousands injured and jailed, as well as extensive damage to metro stations and buildings.

The country’s children’s Ombudsman said on Twitter late on Friday that it was planning to file a complaint of “attempted homicide” over the video which it said showed police throwing the adolescent into the bed of the Mapocho river.

The adolescent was admitted to a non-risk care center. The Prosecutor’s Office is set to investigate the matter.

Police Lieutenant Colonel Rodrigo Soto, in a video on Twitter early on Saturday, denied police had held the boy by his feet or that he had been propelled into the river by a police water cannon “as witnesses on social media have invented”.

“This unfortunate accident occurred in an intense context of arresting people who caused disorder,” he added.

Chile’s government said in a statement on Saturday that it had ordered an investigation into the matter and that the officer involved in the matter be removed from his duties while that probe was being carried out.

“The government rejects and condemns all types of violence, whatever its origin or motivation,” it added.

A hundred or so people had gathered in an iconic square in central of Santiago with various demands, which ended in some skirmishes with police. But the protest was a far cry from huge rallies last year and early this year before the pandemic.

Analysts fear that the anniversary of the 2019 protests, triggered last October by a rise in the price of transport, will unleash a new wave of unrest that came to a halt in March due to the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in the country.

Reporting by Fabian Cambero; Writing by Adam Jourdan; editing by Diane Craft