Chilean students and government leaders met Thursday in an angry atmosphere for long-awaited negotiations on the country’s education reform while tens of thousands of protesters challenged police in the streets of Santiago.
Both sides were distrustful over unmet demands after five months of protests that have shut down universities and some secondary schools, but they decided to begin talks anyway at the Education Ministry.
Outside, students kept protesting and several thousand broke away to clash with police, who used water cannons and tear gas. Organizers said as many as 150,000 young people marched in Santiago in support of their representatives.
After five months and the 36th demonstration the government strategy hoping that time would erode students’ determination is proving out of target.
Officials said the two sides talked for more than two hours and agreed to meet again Wednesday to discuss student demands that the government provide free public education.
Giorgio Jackson, a representative for university students, said only that the meeting was complex.
Strong differences remained over the government's insistence that students return to classrooms, a demand that student leaders have rejected. President Sebastian Piñera has warned that students could lose their scholarships and place in school if classes do not resume.
We're not going to do favours for those who don't return to their campuses, said Education Minister Felipe Bulnes, who participated in the negotiations.
Leaders of various university and secondary school students groups and the president of the teachers union also took part.
Earlier in the day Chilean state television showed images of marching demonstrators clashing with the police close to the Engineering University at the countries’ capital this morning.
According to accounts, students press on with the march when Carabineros police, the national force, arrived. The police responded with water trucks and tear gas. The protest culminated in several arrests and it was over before its curfew at 5 pm .
The spokeswoman for students’ confederation Camila Vallejo estimates over 150.000 students attended the marches and criticized police for clashing with students. “Police should have controlled and guided the students and not suppressed them,” told her also referring to some confusion regarding the march’s ground itinerary.