SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chilean President Sebastian Pinera acknowledged "abuses" in the handling of massive social protests that have shaken the country for three weeks, but stopped short of blaming police or the military in an interview published Saturday in a local paper.
Pinera said any act of abuse would be investigated and prosecuted and that his government, the police and armed forces "have always had a commitment" to respect human rights, in the interview with Chilean daily El Mercurio.
Protests that began over a hike in metro fares quickly unravelled into violent riots, looting and arson, and eventually, mass protests demanding an end to social injustices and inequality. Clashes with police and military security forces have escalated
"I think there have been excesses, abuses, non-compliance with the protocols, non-compliance with the rules of use of force, bad judgement or crimes," Pinera said.
In response to whether he was referring to abuse by Chile's Carabineros - the uniformed police - or the armed forces, Pinera said "I am not the judge, but I also observe" and that any abuses would be prosecuted.
The public ministry announced this week that it will open an investigation for torture against 14 police officers.
Pinera also said that his government is preparing a constitutional reform project to "better define the rights of the people" and "the obligations of the state," although he did not define deadlines for sending it to Congress for discussion, which in Chile is the only formal way to modify the text.
(Reporting by Natalia Ramos; Writing by Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Andrea Ricci)