50 arrested as Chile education protest turns violent

SANTIAGO, Chile – At least 50 people were arrested in Santiago March 15 when police clashed with students angry at the low quality and high cost of public education.

The demonstration, involving some 5,000 protesters, also saw three officers hurt in the hours-long clashes, police said.

Police used water cannons and tear gas against the demonstrators and deployed officers on horseback who tried to control the crowd. The students responded by hurling stones, sticks and bottles filled with paint.

Some of the demonstrators, wearing hoods to mask their identity, set fire to barricades on the Alameda Avenue, the main downtown thoroughfare, and sought to halt traffic in central Santiago.

The protesters did not have an official permit to march, and clashes erupted when police moved in to break up the demonstration.

Education Minister Harald Beyer called the clashes “quite incomprehensible” and said the violence was not consistent with “the spirit of the establishments of the country.”

Chilean students staged more than 40 street marches last year, some of them drawing more than 100,000 people. Several marches resulted in clashes with police.

The students, backed by professors and labor unions, are demanding that President Sebastián Piñera’s government overhaul the education system to guarantee free, quality public education for all Chileans.

[AFP, 15/03/2012; Cooperativa.cl (Chile), 15/03/2012]

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