Chilean students organization with the support of unions have announced a new round of demonstrations while the conservative government of President Sebastián Piñera reported on Wednesday the arrest of over 400 hundred protesters as violence erupted on the streets of Chile's capital along with other cities, during marches demanding changes in public education.
Sporadic looting and at least two cars were set ablaze 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 Piñera is the least popular leader in two decades since Augusto Pinochet's 1973-1990 dictatorship, recent polls showed. The Chilean leader popularity has fallen to 26%.
The demand for education reform is hampering Piñera's agenda, potentially delaying the passage of capital market reforms. Piñera, a former airline and financial magnate, took power last year vowing to boost economic growth and improve state efficiency, staffing his cabinet with technocrats rather than politicians.
Piñera has called on students to find a solution with the government based on 21 proposals he presented, but no pact has been reached.
Protests spread to other Chilean cities, and some Chileans have been banging pots and pans, a popular form of protest in Latin America against dictatorships. Riot police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the demonstrators.
Students in Chile want the national government to take over the public school system, where 90% of the country's 3.5 million students are educated. The students say the system is under-funded, elitist, discriminatory for families with low incomes and deeply inequitable.