Chilean riot police clash with protesting students in Santiago

July 6, 2016 8:00 am
Chilean riot police have
used tear gas and water cannon as they clashed with hundreds of
university students protesting at the new education policies being
pushed forward by the government.

Clashes erupted in the
capital city of Santiago on Tuesday morning when police blocked the
students’ peaceful march, organized by the Confederation of Chilean
Students (Confech), toward the Ministry of Education building, located
next to the government palace.
The students wanted to hand over a
letter detailing their demands to Education Minister Adriana Delpiano,
and also to show their opposition to what they perceive as slow-paced
educational reform measures, currently under debate in the national
Congress.
Demonstrators, barred from reaching the ministry,
threw rocks at police officers, who resorted to using tear gas and water
cannon to disperse the crowds. Some protesters were reportedly arrested
during the clashes.
President Michelle Bachelet had promised to
finance free university education, her principal campaign promise on
educational reform when she came to power in 2014, but due to the fall
in international copper prices, ’s main export, she failed to
fulfill her promise.
Last year, however, she approved a
long-awaited reform plan to provide free university education, which
after a number of modifications and several delays was finally delivered
to the Congress on Monday. Confech has strongly rejected the plan,
saying it covers only 14 percent of tuition costs, and not all of it.

Students
demanding the government to speed up a long-awaited reform to guarantee
universal access to free public education in Chile are dispersed by the
riot police with water cannons, in Santiago, on July 5, 2016. (AFP)According
to Finance Minister Rodrigo Valdés, a totally free university education
would cost the South American country some $4 billion, claiming it to
be unaffordable by the center-left government.
“If Chile had that
money — I suppose we would be lucky to have that money — we would have
to decide if we would want to use it for higher education or channel it
to other needs, such as health or improving pensions,” argued Valdés.
Confech has rejected the government’s claim that it cannot draw up such a budget for higher education.
“(The
bill) does not establish free tuition for all, but only for a few. Why
does it have to be a benefit that only arrives in drips and drabs?” said
Gabriel Iturra, the spokesman for the Confech, adding, “The president
says it will take 23 years to finance free education, that’s not
acceptable.”
Since May, Chile has been the scene of a number of
mass student protests, not only in the capital but also in other major
cities. In the past months, at least 60 schools and over 50 universities
have been closed due to frequent strikes against the education reforms.

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