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Chilean Students Agree to Talks With Govt After Huge Protests

Students have maintained largest protest movement in Chile since General Augusto Pinochet's military dictatorship ended in 1990.


Chilean students, seen here during a demonstration in Santiago, on September 22, in their ongoing attempt to press the government of President Sebastian Pinera to reform the country's education system. Chile's student federation has finally agreed to talks with the government, after nearly five months of demonstrations (photo: AFP)

Chile's student federation agreed to talks with the government of President Sebastian Pinera on education reforms after nearly five months of demonstrations.

But student leaders on Tuesday said they would be calling for no classes to be held while the talks are ongoing, to maintain pressure on the government.

"We are participating to continue our constant struggle for free, democratized education in Chile," said Giorgio Jackson, a leader of the CONFECH student confederation.

Classes have been on hold in many schools and universities during the long-running protests, the largest protest movement in Chile since General Augusto Pinochet's military dictatorship ended in 1990.

The atmosphere seemed ripe for dialogue after the government accepted some of the students' demands, including the withdrawal of two education bills sent to Congress with no input from the students.

Pinera, a center-right billionaire who came to power in March 2010, has stubbornly rejected the protesters' demands in public.

He has shrugged off calls for the school year to be rearranged, and said that 70,000 high school students making such calls and refusing to make up course credits through remedial tests had simply wasted a year.

After a sometimes raucous 10 hour meeting, representatives of 25 student federations from the country's main universities agreed to resume talks but would also go ahead with a national strike on Thursday.

Some 250,000 school students and several thousand college students have been out of class for nearly five months as part of the protest.

Student demands for increased funding for public education have support of up to 80 percent of Chileans, according to different surveys, while Pinera's approval rating has dropped to between 26 and 22 percent.

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