SANTIAGO – Tens of thousands of people took part in rallies Wednesday organized by the country’s largest teachers’ union, which earlier this week launched an indefinite strike to protest an education bill.
University and high-school student federations joined demonstrations in Santiago and other cities to express support for the educators’ demands.
The biggest rally took place in the Chilean capital, where more than 70,000 people, according to protest organizers, marched in downtown Santiago.
The demonstrators gathered in the capital’s Plaza Baquedano and walked on an avenue that runs alongside the Mapocho River, heeding authorities’ demand that they avoid the Alameda, Santiago’s main thoroughfare.
Last week, student protesters blocked traffic and clashed with police on that road.
At the end of the demonstration, isolated groups of hooded youths vandalized street furniture before riot police dispersed them with water cannon.
Teachers are demanding changes to an education bill currently before Congress, saying it should be modified to shorten their working hours, pay them higher salaries and eliminate a requirement that teachers new to the profession pass exams in different knowledge areas.
“The government needs to understand it needs to sit down and talk and substantially improve this bill,” Jaime Gajardo, the head of the CPU teachers’ union, Chile’s largest, said Wednesday.
The government, for its part, says teachers are being too inflexible in their demands.