July 8, 2008 / 10:41 PM / 11 years ago

Chile police clash with student protestors

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Hundreds of Chilean students and teachers fought riot police armed with tear gas and water cannons in the capital on Tuesday, the latest protest against an unpopular education reform bill.

A riot police officer arrests a student during a rally in downtown Santiago July 8, 2008. Groups of students clashed with Chilean riot police on Tuesday to protest against a proposed education reform. REUTERS/Victor Ruiz Caballero

Police said they arrested 150 people, 82 of them youths, after police were pelted with stones and two officers were injured.

Teachers and students want President Michelle Bachelet to withdraw an education bill from Congress under which an education superintendent would regulate government funds for public schools.

Protesters say the bill does not address concerns that Chile’s education system is being privatized, and they believe that the education of poorer students will suffer at ill-funded state schools as a result of the measure.

“We are protesting against a bill that does not take into account or develop the aspirations of students or teachers,” said history teacher Luis Vicencio, a protest leader.

“The responsibility of the state is to provide public education, so that the children of the poorest can study free,” he added. “With this bill, that is lost.”

As he spoke, medics tended to one protester lying on the capital’s main artery, the Alameda, who suffered a head injury after he was doused by a water cannon.

Jaime Gajardo, president of Chile’s National College of Teachers, said four professors were wounded.

“We are going to keep protesting,” said Arturo Martinez, president of the CUT, Chile’s largest umbrella workers’ union, which joined the teachers’ protest. He said his group was planning a two-day nationwide strike but did not announce a date.

“We will do everything we have to, responsibly, to block this reform.”

A poll published this month showed Bachelet’s approval rating fell in June for a third month due to protests by students and teachers against the education bill and quickening inflation that hit a 17-year high in June.

In June, thousands of teachers and students protested against the bill, which has been passed by the lower house of congress. The senate has yet to vote on it. The bill would replace a law in place since the end of Augusto Pinochet’s 1973-1990 dictatorship.

Reporting by Simon Gardner and Manuel Farias; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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