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Chilean policeman arrested over blinding of protest student

This content was published on August 21, 2020 - 16:50

By Aislinn Laing

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - A Chilean police special forces operative was arrested early on Friday over the blinding with rubber bullets of a student during protests over inequality in November last year.

Lieutenant Colonel Claudio Crespo was detained at his home in the capital Santiago, the Chilean prosecutor's office said, on suspicion of being the officer who fired the shots that blinded Gustavo Gatica in both eyes.

Gatica, 22, a psychology student at a Santiago university, was one of two people blinded in both eyes by police rubber bullets. At least 400 more people were injured or blinded in one eye, according to Chile’s human rights watchdog, in a grisly feature of the protests that has driven anger towards the center-right government of President Sebastian Pinera.

The protests over inequality and elitism in Chile also resulted in at least 31 people killed, 3,000 injured, and 30,000 detained. Prosecutors are probing allegations of abuse made by over 5,000 people against the security forces.

The arrest comes shortly before the first anniversary of the outbreak of protests on Oct. 18, and in anticipation of further protests given the added hardship wrought by the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout.

The delayed investigation into the Gatica shooting has provoked further criticism of the authorities. Gatica told Reuters in March this year that until justice was done in his case and others, people would continue to protest.

According to Chilean media reports, Crespo was suspended from the police force and later detained after the body cam he was wearing showed he had fired the shots.

The prosecutor's office did not respond to a request from Reuters for more details.

The arrest comes in the same week as police chief General Mario Rozas was forced to row back on plans to name a police academy after Rodolfo Stange, a member of the military junta of General Augusto Pinochet, who ran Chile for 17 years following a coup in 1973.

(Reporting by Aislinn Laing; Editing by Alistair Bell)

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