"March of the Umbrellas": Chile's Student Protesters Reject Proposal

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Al Jazeera

"March of the Umbrellas": Chile's Student Protesters Reject Proposal

More than 50,000 students march through Santiago demanding an end to profiteering and equal access to education.

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More than 50,000 students march through Santiago demanding an end to profiteering and equal access to education.

More than 50,000 protesters have marched through Chile's capital to press the government for changes in the nation's education system.

Students who participated in Thursday's demonstration, dubbed the "March of the Umbrellas", were not deterred by cold or rain, reported Santiago's La Tercera newspaper.

Minor skirmishes broke out between police and protesters, and La Tercera reported that students set a small number of barricades on fire. Police said that all incidents were quieted by other students participating in the march.

More than 120km away, in Valparaiso, police reportedly clashed with stone-throwing protesters who demanded an end to education profiteering.

The "March of Umbrellas" took place hours after Chile's government offered a settlement that fell short of student demands for a better education system. Those demands have fueled months of demonstrations in Santiago and other Chilean cities.

Change, not reform

"We don't want to improve the system, it has to be changed," said student leader Camila Vallejo, responding to the most recent government proposal.

Vallejo, spokeswoman for the Chilean Student Federation, said the movement was not trying to reform the law that allows profiteering from education, but to abolish it.

Chile's student movement has been demonstrating against the government since May, with the largest protests the country has seen since the end of its military dictatorship in 1990.

Intense clashes between police and protesters have taken place throughout the past months, including pitched street battles between armed police and students with petrol bombs.

Among the students' demands are a state takeover of the public school system, which is currently run by local authorities. Protesters claim this system has created deep inequalities in educational access.

Students also want easier access to higher education, saying that the current system leaves university graduates in deep financial debt.

Tuition fees for higher education in Chile are the highest in the world when adjusted for the country's per capita gross domestic product.

Chile has the highest per capita income of any country in South America, but the continent's widest income gap between rich and poor.

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