Major protests erupt against Chile's Pinera

Tue Aug 9, 2011 8:15pm EDT

Related Topics

 * Protest for education reform follows spell of unrest
 * Protesters cite expensive education, inequality in Chile
 * Pinera seen as lame duck but investor confidence solid
 By Alexandra Ulmer and Alexis Krell
 SANTIAGO, Aug 9 (Reuters) - Protesters battled police in
Chile's capital on Tuesday in the latest unrest against deeply
unpopular President Sebastian Pinera, possibly sidetracking his
top priorities such as capital market reforms.
 Spearheaded by students demanding more affordable and
improved education, tens of thousands of protesters marched in
the streets of Santiago. A small core of protesters started
fires and threw rocks at police, who fired tear gas and water
cannons.
Police said 273 protesters were detained and 23 police
officers were injured. No figures on other injuries were
available.
 At least two cars burned in downtown Santiago as police on
horseback tried to drive protesters back. Police estimated
around 60,000 people joined the protest, while student leaders
said 100,000 people protested in the capital alone.
 Battered by protests by students, environmentalists and
miners in the world's top copper producer, billionaire Pinera
is the least popular leader in two decades since Augusto
Pinochet's 1973-1990 dictatorship, one recent poll showed.
 The demand for education reform is hampering Pinera's
agenda, potentially delaying the passage of capital market
reforms aimed at making Chile a regional financial hub and
possibly affecting the country's budget.
 Pinera, a former airline magnate, took power last year
vowing to boost economic growth and improve state efficiency,
staffing his cabinet with technocrats rather than politicians.
Many Chileans say an economic boom has bypassed them, and that
Pinera has failed to deliver.
 "The problem is that money is too concentrated ... The poor
cannot rise up (in society)," said Oscar Escobar Bravo, a
17-year-old high school student wearing his blue uniform.
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 Protests spread to other cities, and some Chileans have
been banging pots and pans, a popular form of protest in Latin
America.
 "Obviously I want to go to university, but my family
doesn't have the money to send me," said 18-year-old Manuel
Rojas, speaking behind a scarf covering his mouth for
protection from tear gas.
 "What hasn't Pinera done badly? Pinera represents the
people from the rich neighborhoods. We're fighting for our
parents, ... who can't make ends meet," he added.
 Pinera sought to defuse protests last month by proposing a
$4 billion fund for higher education and then proposing reforms
like guaranteeing education as a constitutional right -- which
students said do not go far enough. [Id:nN1E76421D]
 But Chile's reputation as a magnet for foreign investment
is seen as safe in an economy expected to expand 6-7 percent
this year despite global financial turmoil.
 "These events make noise and generate a perception of
increased (investment) risk. I wouldn't say there necessarily
is more risk. We don't see it as that relevant for now," said
Claudio Gonzalez, head of research at the Tanner brokerage in
Santiago.
 "This could have an impact in terms of greater social
spending, which could have some impact on local inflation," he
added.
 (Editing by Simon Gardner and Cynthia Osterman)


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