First Chilean police officer in court as protest flare anew

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A demonstrator gestures during a protest against the government of Chilean President Sebastian Pinera in Santiago on January 24, 2020

A Chilean police officer appeared in court Friday in the first instance of prosecutors bringing charges over eye injuries blamed on security forces during Chile's months of unrest.

Street protests flared anew the same day, as demonstrators wearing masks and waving flags returned to the capital Santiago's Plaza Italia to express their outrage at Chile's economic inequality and President Sebastian Pinera's right-wing government.

In court, Captain Pablo Carvajal was formally accused of having fired buckshot in the left eye of a protester at a distance of two to five meters (6.5 to 16 feet) during a late October protest in downtown Santiago.

Prosecutor Ximena Chong said Carvajal opened fire after the victim threw a blunt object at a police vehicle, but the victim has not suffered any loss of vision to date.

A month after the crisis began, Chilean police suspended the use of buckshot against protesters as an anti-riot tool, specifying that it was only for use in instances of extreme danger.

Fueled by outrage at Pinera and the Chilean elite that controls most of wealth, the South American country has since October been in the midst of its worst social unrest since the transition to democracy from military dictatorship in 1990.

Chanting "Pinera is a killer," most of Friday's demonstrators were peaceful, but some ended up clashing with riot police who fired tear gas and water cannons to break up the crowd that defied orders to disband.

More than 400 people have been injured in the eye since the protests began, according to the National Human Rights Institute (INDH), an independent public body.

A total of 29 people have died since the start of the crisis, while several thousand have been wounded.