As anti-government protests turned violent in Chile, the death toll climbed to 23 on Friday as the country entered its fifth week of social unrest.

Looting and demonstrations took place in cities across the South American nation, and an agreement on a political roadmap that will see Chile draft a new constitution has halted neither the anger nor the bloodshed.

The agitated and furious Chileans have been protesting since October 18 for social and economic inequality, against an entrenched political elite that comes from a small number of the wealthiest families in the country, among other issues.

On Friday, thousands of protesters gathered again in Plaza Italia, the centre of the demonstrations in Santiago and the site of weekly rallies that have seen massive turnout since the social upheaval broke out.

Earlier in the month, President Sebastian Pinera had announced plans for a dialogue with the citizenry, but the protesters show little interest in talking with the government.

In Santiago, more than thousands gathered in the main Plaza Italia square, with some attempting to make their way to the heavily cordoned presidential palace and engaging in clashes with riot police.

Violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces broke out only hours after Pinera announced a cabinet reshuffle.

The President also praised the agreement reached by parliamentary forces on November 15 to convene a plebiscite in April 2020 so that citizens can decide if they want a new constitution and which body should write it. He also acknowledged for the first time that there have been abuses and excessive use of force by security forces, which he promised to sanction.

The crisis is the worst in three decades of Chilean democracy and has led to around 2,000 injuries, including some 280 people who suffered eye damage from shotgun pellets.

“We cannot ease up. We have to keep expressing ourselves because we have not achieved anything, because the repression continues and also (the government) keeps signing fake agreements, like the peace deal,” Claudia Ortolani, a young protester, told AFP.

Meanwhile, about a hundred people protested outside the Costanera Centre, the largest mall in South America, as around twenty riot police guarded the entrance to the building.

The anger in the streets had eased after last week’s agreement by Congress to draft a new Constitution.

On Thursday, authorities arrested 700 people in the unrest. That followed the police decision to suspend the use of birdshot against protesters, following an outcry over eye injury victims.

(With inputs from AFP)