Chile students clash with police at demo

Students march to demand the government to speed up a long-awaited reform to guarantee universal access to free public education, in Santiago on April 11, 2017

Clashes erupted Tuesday as Chile's raucous student movement held its first protest of the year for free education, with students hurling stones and police firing tear gas.

Tens of thousands of students flooded the streets of central Santiago, protesting an education reform bill they say does not go far enough in overhauling an expensive and unequal education system that dates to the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990).

Following the protest, the education committee in the lower house of Congress voted against sending the bill to the floor for debate. That will now force President Michelle Bachelet and her team to go back to the drawing board.

"I would love to vote for education reform, but don't ask us to vote for this frustrating and disappointing bill," said independent lawmaker Giorgio Jackson, a former student leader.

The bill would have expanded access to free university education, with the number of beneficiaries based on Chile's economic growth in any given year.

That does not go far enough, say student protesters, who want free tuition with no strings attached.

Clashes erupted as the protest got under way. Rowdy groups of students -- many wearing masks and dressed in black -- threw stones at the heavy contingent of riot police standing guard.

Police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse them. The protest then unfolded peacefully, but new clashes broke out at the end.

Thirty people were arrested and six police officers injured, officials said.

Organizers said 90,000 people had joined the protest. Police put the figure at 35,000.

Bachelet won the election in 2013 vowing to reform the highly privatized education and pension systems.

But both projects have drawn violent protests in recent months.

With the leftist president's popularity dented by a lackluster economy and a series of corruption scandals, it is unclear whether she will manage to pass the reforms before elections in November to choose her successor.

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