Chile police suspends use of birdshot against protesters after outcry over eye injuries

A demonstrator holds a Chilean flag during a protest against Chile's state economic model in Santiago. Photograph:( Reuters )

AFP Santiago, Chile Nov 20, 2019, 07.35 AM (IST)

Chile's police said Tuesday they had suspended the use of birdshot during street protests amid an outcry over eye injuries suffered by more than 200 demonstrators.

The decision was announced by the head of the Carabinero police, Mario Roza, after a month of protests over socio-economic inequality and other problems.

Police say the birdshot pellets are made of rubber but some studies say they also contain metal.

"As a prudent step, use of this non-lethal ammunition as a riot tool has been ordered suspended," said Roza.

A study by the University of Chile of ammunition extracted from injured protesters found birdshot composed of 20 per cent rubber and the remaining 80 per cent consisting of silica, barium sulfate and lead, which meant the pellets were as hard as "a skateboard wheel," the report said.

Roza explained that following the report an internal investigation was conducted which also found "discrepancies" with the information provided by the company that sells the birdshot.

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Beginning Tuesday, he said, the birdshot could only be used in the same manner "as firearms, as an extreme measure and exclusively for self-defence when there is an imminent threat of death."

Protesters who have been injured in the eye have become a symbol of the demonstrations.

The number of injured people exceeds victims in other protest zones across the world, including in France during the yellow vest protests, in Hong Kong and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to the Medical University of Chile and Chilean human rights groups.

The demonstrations reached their one-month mark Monday. They have included near-daily street protests that began with high school students refusing to pay a subway ticket hike but have since mushroomed into the deepest social crisis in the South American country since the return of democracy in 1990.