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Students Face Down Tear Gas and Water Cannons in Chile Protests

March against 'inadequate' education reform ends with violent confrontations with riot police

Students protesting the government's lack of attention to their calls for free education run from a water cannon. (Photo: AFP)

Riot police in Santiago on Wednesday used tear gas and water cannons against student protesters during a march in which tens of thousands rallied against what they declare are inadequate education reform proposals.

The unrest in the Chilean capital marked the latest in a string of protests over the last several years championing free public education and specifically denounced a new round of education policies which students say do not go far enough in fulfilling the government's promises to meet student demands.

Chile Student Federation president Melissa Sepulveda said students will not tolerate “makeup on the educational model,” that currently exists––a privatized system originally established under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

The protest, which began Tuesday, was organized by a number of Chilean student organizations in response to a proposal for education reform put forth to the national congress by President Michelle Bachelet. Students say that the legislation was drafted without student input and will not lead to any significant changes in the country’s education model.

“[The administration] is not listening to what society and students really want,” graphic design student Sebastian Bejar told The Santiago Times. “The changes [this administration] is making are basic or too little to create a new model.”

Demonstrators claimed that some 80,000 people participated in the Santiago protest with an additional 20,000 people marching in cities nationwide.

The use of tear gas and water cannons prompted a violent response from demonstrators, who threw objects at police officers, which in turn led to a number of arrests, according to Al Jazeera.

While it was not clear how many were arrested overall, the website of the Chile Students Federation pointed to a specific incident in which “a student ...was hit on the head by a carabinero [a member of the national Chilean armed police force],” and three students were arrested following their efforts to intervene.

According to Peruvian newspaper El Comercio, the protests ended with students denouncing the infiltration of the protestors by one of the carabineros, who they say threatened students with a gun. The government has announced an investigation into the incident, while police said that the armed man was not a member of the police force.

While Tuesday’s protest did include smaller demonstrations nationwide, student and faculty organizations have announced plans for a larger national mobilization on June 25.

Watch a video below of the man protesters charge infiltrated the student ranks:


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