News24

50 arrested in Chile education protest

2012-03-16 09:22

Santiago - At least 50 people were arrested in Santiago on Thursday when police clashed with students angry at the low quality and high cost of public education.

The demo, 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 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, lit fire to barricades on the Alameda Avenue, a main downtown avenue, 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.

Clashes

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 in 2011. Some of them drew more than 100 000 people, making them the country's largest rallies since the end of Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship in 1990. Several marches resulted in clashes with police.

The students, backed by professors and labour unions, are demanding that President Sebastian Pinera's conservative government overhaul the education system to guarantee free, quality public education for all Chileans.

Under Pinochet, state funding for public education was slashed, privatisation encouraged and responsibility for public schools passed to municipalities.

The result has been a system dividing those who can afford private schools and those who are relegated to lower quality public schools, or benefit from public schools in wealthy neighbourhoods.

Amnesty International this week expressed concern over what it called "the human rights violations" and reports of excessive force from authorities over the last year of protests.

In total last year over 5 000 people were arrested taking part in protests, most of whom were released within hours and not charged due to lack of evidence of crimes.