Chilean students clashed with police Thursday, after resuming protests that began last year and continued for seven months.
Agence France-Presse reported that police used water jets and tear gas to disperse about 5,000 people, who gathered in the central Santiago Parque Bustamante to resume last year’s student protests. Invited by Co-ordinated Assembly of Secondary Students (ACES), protestors campaigned for lower tuition fees as well as higher quality education in the secondary and post-secondary systems.
According to the Chilean daily La Tercera, the violence began around 10:45am yesterday, when masked men began fighting with police. Protesting students had gathered in the plaza half an hour earlier.
The newspaper points out that students had not been authorized to protest. It also says 103 people were arrested, and six police officers were injured.
According to ACES, about 10,000 people were at the protest.
“We hope that the government will authorize the marches and order the end of this repression,” said ACES spokesperson Maximiliano Salas. “We accept the fight of the most aggressive ones, because they have demands. We did not see the damage as excessive, but as self-defense against the police.”
Education minister Harald Beyer said the violence was “incomprehensible,” and not in “the spirit that I have seen in the establishments of the country.”
“What I have seen (…) is that the main interest is that this become a very productive year in terms of learning,” he said. “The demonstrations we’ve seen today do not reflect that spirit. And so, we find it regrettable – we do not understand the meaning of the protests.”
Beginning in May 2011, students began protesting the largely-private school system in Chile. The protests continued through December 2011, sometimes pulling out as many as 100,000 people. On August 4 alone, the BBC reports that there were more than 900 people were arrested in protests throughout the country, and almost 100 police officers injured.
Chile’s system is considered to be the best in Latin America in some respects, but few students have access to the high points of the system. Many poorer students are relegated to “shabby, under-funded state schools,” according to the BBC.