Tens of thousands of students demonstrated on the streets of Chile's capital Wednesday seeking an overhaul of what they call one of the world's priciest and most unfair educational systems.
The students, joined by parents and professors, thronged the Plaza Italia square, following up on more than 40 demonstrations last year against the system which is a legacy of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship.
They marched, singing and chanting, through Santiago streets to a cultural center for a closing ceremony.
We will keep on being rebels, because the student movement is not going to settle for a few excesses having been corrected. We want to fix all of them, argued Gabriel Boric, head of the students' union, which said 100,000 people had joined the demonstration. Police would not confirm the figure.
Students, backed by professors and labor unions, are demanding that President Sebastian Piñera conservative government overhaul the education system to guarantee free, quality public education for all Chileans.
This government has been unable to respond to the students' basic requests, added Boric.
The Pinochet regime, which ended in 1990, slashed to less than half the government's funding of public higher education.
Last year some of the protests drew more than 100,000 people, making them the country's largest rallies since the end of the dictatorship.
Some of the protests last year were interspersed with violent confrontations between students and police. A March 15 demonstration in Santiago ended with the arrest of at least 50 people after some of the roughly 5,000 students reportedly became violent.
Piñera has proposed taking private banks out of the student loan system and creating a state organization to administer student loans. Until now, student loan interest rates have topped 6% but the government has pledged to reduce them to 2% and only allow students to have to pay a maximum of 10% of their salary a year in loan reimbursements once they are in the working world.
Congress has yet to take up the government's proposal, which also includes a 15-year maximum repayment timeframe, after which remaining student debt would be forgiven.