Friday, September 30, 2011

Meanwhile, in Chile...

SANTIAGO - Student protesters clashed with police in the Chilean capital on Thursday, just ahead of scheduled talks with the government on education reforms which have sparked massive demonstrations.

Riot police used tear gas and water cannon to try to disperse the tens of thousands of protesters, some of whom responded by attacking security forces with sticks and rocks, scenes broadcast on Chilean television showed.

Tear gas wafted into private homes and office buildings in the area, briefly causing panic among residents around a park where the clashes occurred.

The demonstration had begun peacefully in front of the University of Santiago, but turned violent near a park south of the Chilean capital, outside an area that authorities had approved for the march.

Organizers estimated the crowd at 90,000, saying participants included university students, secondary school students and teachers. The police gave no estimate for the number of demonstrators.

The protest was being held just hours before talks were to open between protest leaders and the government.

Camila Vallejo, one of the leaders of the student movement, denounced the police handling of the latest protest.

"Police should have co-operated to control the protest, but not suppress it," she said.

Of the talks, Vallejo said, "We hope the government shows willingness to work with us and that the budget will be on the table."

Classes have been on hold in many schools and universities during the long-running demonstrations, which routinely draw tens of thousands of students into the streets, representing the largest protest movement in Chile since General Augusto Pinochet's military dictatorship ended in 1990.

Chile's main student federation on Tuesday agreed to talks with the government of President Sebastian Pinera on education reforms after nearly five months of demonstrations.

But student leaders had said they would be calling for no classes to be held while the talks are ongoing, to maintain pressure on the government.

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