SANTIAGO – Tens of thousands of Chilean students marched in this capital and other cities on Thursday to oppose a proposed education reform they see as too timid.
Shortly after the start of the procession in Santiago, clusters of protesters wearing hoods challenged police by deviating from the approved route.
Police resorted to tear gas and water cannon, while the militants responded by hurling rocks and other objects in disturbances that forced shops to close and an area metro station to shut down for a brief period.
President Michelle Bachelet issued an appeal for students to protest “calmly and responsibly,” while some local residents and merchants were on the streets Thursday to ask the marchers to avoid violence.
The event was organized by the Chile Students Confederation, or Confech, which brings together the principal organizations of university and secondary students.
Confech spokesman Gabriel Iturra began the march by urging the participants to remain peaceful, stressing that the aim of the mobilization was to improve education, not to battle police or damage property.
Authorities made a number of arrests.
Thursday’s march was the latest action by students in rejection of the form and some of the content of the education overhaul bill promoted by Bachelet’s administration.
Young activists say the plan doesn’t do enough to reform an educational system still marked by the legacy of the 1973-1990 Augusto Pinochet dictatorship, which encouraged the proliferation of for-profit schools and starved public education of resources.