Major protests erupt against Chile's Pinera
* 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. <^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ > TAKE A LOOK on Chile economy [ID:nN09HILEFI] ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^>
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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