SANTIAGO – Some 120,000 people took to Santiago’s streets on Thursday, according to the Confederation of Chilean Students (Confech), to protest Chile’s new conservative government, representing the first massive student demonstration since Sebastian Piñera was sworn in as president in March.
Thousands of students gathered in the central Italia square from where they marched some 4 km (2.5 mi) along Bernardo O’Higgins avenue, accompanied by dancers and musicians who livened up the demonstration.
Shouting slogans and carrying banners, protesters demanded an end to for-profit schools, student debt and sexist school programs.
The mobilization was organized by Confech, the main teachers’ association and organizations representing high school students.
The demonstration in Santiago lasted for more than three hours, while other large protests took place in Valparaiso, Concepcion, Temuco and other cities.
Chile’s militarized national police, the Carabineros, deployed tear gas and water cannons against the protesters in Santiago, setting off clashes between masked militants and the cops.
According to witnesses, a college student was run over two times by a police vehicle and was left unconscious between two cars.
Dozens of people were arrested and several were injured during the police crackdown.
Students and their supporters say that Piñera is attempting to dismantle the education reforms launched by his predecessor Michelle Bachelet.
This is the first demonstration in support of public education that has taken place since Piñera was sworn in as president in March, representing the second right-wing government since democracy returned to Chile in 1990, following the 17-year dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
During his first administration, from 2010-2014, Piñera, a billionaire businessman, faced a wave of protests, particularly student demonstrations, that are expected to continue in his second term.