At least 50 demonstrators were arrested Thursday when masked protesters attacked police at the end of a massive and otherwise peaceful march in Santiago de Chile demanding more resources for education.
Tens of thousands of students, teachers and their supporters marched from the University of Santiago, in the western part of the city, to the La Moneda presidential palace demanding reforms.
Marchers took up 11 blocks of the central Alameda Boulevard as they headed into downtown Santiago. Protest organizers said that more than 150,000 came out to march. This is an absolutely massive march that has surpassed our expectations, said student leader Giorgio Jackson.
Santiago Governor Cecilia Perez however said the figure was closer to 60,000.
Regardless of the number, the ongoing demonstrations have turned into the largest protest movement in Chile since General Augusto Pinochet's military dictatorship ended in 1990.
Thursday's march follows even larger demos in June, July and August. The large crowds prove that the student's demands remain popular, and show they have not lost strength after their numbers dwindled in recent marches.
Chilean President Sebastian Piñera, a conservative billionaire who came to power in March 2010, has stubbornly rejected the protesters' demands.
Piñera has shrugged off calls for the school year to be rearranged, and said that 70,000 high school students making such calls and refusing to make up course credits through remedial tests had simply wasted a year.
The breakdown of talks between the students and the government last week also contributed to renewed anger.
Camila Vallejo, a 23-year-old student leader said that frustrations with the poor condition of Chile’s education system have been building ever since the Pinochet years.
The people understand that the crisis in education is in fact a crisis of the model installed under the dictatorship. It's not against today's government, but against the neo-liberal model, she said.
She said the conditions for learning in the country were a woeful contrast to the general image of Chile as a modern and successful economy in Latin America.
”Our model dates back 30 years and it has created a lot of inequalities. It hasn't guaranteed quality (of education), social integration, and making citizens aware and responsible,” she said.
At the end of the peaceful march small groups of hooded youth taunted police, threw stones and set tires on fire. Police responded by firing water cannons and hurtling tear gas.
Chilean police reported that at least 20 members of the force had been injured.