Nearly 100,000 Chilean students demonstrate in Santiago
Jun 30, 2011, 21:46 GMT
Santiago - Close to 100,000 Chilean students and teachers demonstrated Thursday in front of the presidential palace in Santiago demanding reform in the country's public education system.
The conservative government of President Sebastian Pinera has rejected student demands, which include tax reforms to finance education and healthcare and changes in the constitution.
'They slammed the door on dialogue insofar as they make demands that show they are not in favour of coming to an agreement,' said Education Minister Joaquin Lavin.
It was one of the largest demonstrations in Chile over the past 20 years. Towards the end, hundreds of police officers on foot and on horseback clashed with demonstrators.
'We want free and good-quality public education,' some of the banners displayed by the students read.
'We are fighting for better education,' said student leader Camila Vallejos. 'We want the government to understand that this is a political movement.'
A further 30,000 protesters rallied in the nearby city of Valparaiso.
Hundreds of schools had been occupied by students, in a protest movement that was a serious challenge to Pinera's government. Even from within his own party there came calls for a Cabinet reshuffle.
Demonstrators, some of them as young as 12, have held scores of protests so far this year, with similar demands.
Official statistics appear to back up claims that the educational system deepens social inequality in Chile.
Among the poorest 10 per cent of the population, only 60 per cent of young people under 24 finish secondary school. Among the wealthiest 10 per cent, the rate is as high as 97 per cent.
Less than 17 per cent of poor young people have access to higher education in Chile, compared to 60 per cent among the wealthy.