Chile: Talks broken, police move in on students
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Last Updated: Friday, October 07, 2011, 12:08
  
Santiago: Chilean police used water cannons and tear gas to break up a student march for free public education, hours after protesters' talks with the government collapsed.

A huge deployment of riot police surrounded students in the Plaza Italia, Santiago's traditional gathering place, where student leader Camila Vallejo tried to lead the march yesterday while holding a sign saying "United and Stronger," only to be pummeled by water cannons and forced to retreat by tear gas.

Protesters hurled rocks at police and set blockades ablaze in the streets as officers on horseback chased students onto nearby campuses. Vallejo said officers shot tear gas into their student government offices in "a direct attack against our organisation."

Students occupied the Alameda, one of Santiago's main avenues, by dancing in large numbers, but were blasted with water from police. Small groups managed to elude officers and approach the presidential palace before being beaten back by police.

The regional governor, Cecilia Perez, said 132 people were arrested and 25 officers and five civilians were injured. At least a half-dozen journalists were arrested. She called this "lamentable" and said their arrests would be investigated.

Yesterday's march was the 37th weekly protest since the movement against Chile's largely privatized education system in began in April, demanding more spending and higher taxes on the wealthy so that quality public education can be free for all.

With both sides accusing the other of intransigence, Chile's government has focused on criminalising the protests, proposing tough new penalities including up to three years in prison for occupying schools and other public places.

Vallejo called the police crackdown unprecedented, even for a movement that for five months has seen initially peaceful mass marches dissolve into isolated but violent confrontations between hooded demonstrators and helmeted, baton-wielding police.

PTI


First Published: Friday, October 07, 2011, 12:08


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