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Chile Increases Troops in Quake-hit Areas to Prevent Further Looting

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Chile has increased to 14,000 the number of troops dispatched to patrol areas devastated by a massive earthquake, President Michelle Bachelet said on Tuesday.

The president appealed to the public for calm amid widespread looting.

"We understand your urgent suffering," said President Bachelet, "but we also know that these are criminal acts that will not be tolerated."

The troops in quake-hit areas are tasked with preventing the spread of looting while distributing relief materials.

Angry survivors of last Saturday's 8.8 magnitude earthquake set fire to shops after looting their contents in Concepcion, Chile's second largest city, and other towns along the coast.

So far one person got killed while 160 people were detained by troops and police clamping down on looting, according to Deputy Interior Minister Patricio Rosende.

The number of Chileans affected by the massive earthquake is estimated to be around 2 million, or one eighth of the country's total population.

Residents slept out for a third night in Concepcion, still rattled by aftershocks. There were more than 120 aftershocks with magnitudes greater than 5 on the Richter scale since Saturday.

The deputy interior minister said that the government had purchased all the food in Concepcion's main supermarkets so that it could distribute food for free and that more supplies were being shipped in from elsewhere.

State television on Tuesday reported that more than 300 bodies had been found in a fishing village along the coast where it was swamped by huge tsunami waves immediately following the earthquake.

Quake-caused damages to Chile are so far estimated to be up to US$30 billion, or a fifth of the country's gross domestic product.

(Xinhua News Agency March 3, 2010)

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