Chile police, students clash in protests

2011-08-05 13:00
Santiago - Riot police battled high school and university students in the streets of Chile's capital on Thursday, firing water cannons and tear gas, and using officers on horseback to break up flaming barricades. Police detained 552 students and at least 14 police officers and two young people were injured.

Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter and other Chilean authorities had warned that Thursday's marches were considered illegal and would be met with force.

The students, pressing for major changes to Chile's underfunded and unequal public education system, marched anyway, setting up barricades of burning tires at a dozen points around the city and paralysing traffic. While many tried to peacefully hold their ground, some hooded demonstrators threw rocks at police cars and passing buses.

"Everything has its limit," President Sebastian Pinera said, warning against the demonstrations.

Hinzpeter added that "the time for marching has run out".

State of siege

"This seems like a state of siege. I imagine it must have been like this 30 years ago," responded Camila Vallejos, a spokesperson for the striking university students, referring to Chile's 1973-90 military dictatorship. "Even the right to congregate in public places isn't assured."

Despite the crackdown, Vallejos called for protesters to keep up the demonstration and bang pots "against the repression" through Thursday night. The sounds of pans bashing together could be heard in various parts of the capital late into the night.

Students, teachers and other education workers have participated in huge street demonstrations in recent weeks, with as many as 100 000 people joining their call for more government funding and a fundamental change in a system set up under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet that largely left public schools at the mercy of underfunded municipalities.

They are demanding improved quality as well as free education, including an end to profit-making at private universities.

Reforms offered

Pinera offered a 21-point package of reforms on Monday and invited centre-left lawmakers to sit down with him in the presidential palace to resolve the strikes.

The president would increase overall funding and gradually and partially shift education responsibilities from underfunded municipalities to new government agencies. Other reforms would aim to improve teacher training, increase university scholarships and help resolve unpaid student loan debts.

Opposition lawmakers declined the invitation and the students held out for more changes. There are about 33 high school and university students on a liquid-only hunger strike, and some of them raised the stakes by saying they may stop drinking fluids as well.

Chadwick suggested that the measure will be sent to Congress, even without support from the students and leftist lawmakers.

Compromises key

Its fate will be uncertain. The ruling centre-right coalition has a narrow majority in the lower house, but the centre-left coalition it replaced still controls the Senate, so compromises are key to getting any laws passed in Chile.

A key student demand is that private universities be granted tax breaks as non-profit institutions reinvest more of their income, which they say is required under a 1981 non-profit law. Pinera's package didn't directly address this problem.

As dawn broke on Thursday, Santiago Governor Cecilia Perez mobilised the riot police and called on parents to rein in their children. Deputy Interior Minister Rodrigo Ubilla later said 552 students were arrested and 16 people suffered injuries.

"The students are not the owners of this country," declared Andres Chadwick, the government spokesperson. "We cannot be held prisoner as a society by the idea that the only rights that matter are those of students to protest."

Public transport paralysed

About 1 300 police officers prevented the marchers from reaching the presidential palace. Hundreds of young people tried to break through barriers to converge on Santiago's Plaza Italia, a traditional gathering place. Other large groups came together at other points in the capital. Each time police dispersed a large mass of demonstrators, they would regroup, only to be struck with water or tear gas again.

In various parts of the city, people could hardly breathe from the tear gas. Metro stations were closed and public transportation paralysed. While many of the demonstrators tried to remain peaceful, other covered their faces in hoods and threw rocks at buses and police cars.

"I think the government has committed a grave mistake," Vallejos said. "They wanted to wipe out and make invisible this demonstration. With this the people will only come out in greater force because there's huge discontent."

- SAPA
Read more on:    chile
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/News

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

20% off all TV Series!

Want to have a chilled day at home? Get 20% off TV series, the perfect excuse to "veg out". Shop now!

Save R700 on the Hisense LED TV Now R2499

Get the Hisense 32” HD ready LED TV for only R2499. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 40% off fashion accessories

Save up to 40% on selected handbags, purses, watches, jewellery and more. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Save up to R2000 on top electronics

Get every day mind bowing savings on top electronics. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

As seen on TV - New book releases at only R199 each

Get mind blowing book savings on new titles. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

Today is one of those days where the more positive and optimistic you are the more opportunities you seem to attract....read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.