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Chile police clash with activists as thousands protest for free education (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Published time: May 09, 2014 12:34

Student protesters run away during a demonstration to demand changes in the Chilean education system, in Santiago May 8, 2014. (Reuters/Ivan Alvarado)

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Protesters have clashed with police in the Chilean capital during a mass protest for free education. Tens of thousands of demonstrators flooded the center of Santiago, urging the government to deliver on its promises for educational reform.

Chile’s first mass demonstration of the year, calling for educational reform, ended in clashes with police and violence. Hooded youths hijacked the peaceful protest, setting fire to a jeep and hurling Molotov cocktails at police officers, five of whom were injured. Activists also attempted to block the streets by constructing makeshift barricades.

Police retaliated, using water cannon and tear gas to disperse crowds of protesters.

A riot police armored car is hit by a molotov cocktail thrown by students during a protest against the education system on May 8, 2014 in Santiago. (AFP Photo)

The organizers of the event claim that over 100,000 people turned out for the march, while Santiago’s authorities estimate that around 40,000 people took to the streets. In addition, over 1,800 officers were deployed in the Chilean capital to keep order.

This is the first time the Chilean capital has witnessed a mass education protest since Michelle Bachelet assumed the presidency two months ago.

After her election, Bachelet pledged that she would overhaul Chile’s education system, responding to the millions of people who have participated in protests since 2011. They complain of poor conditions, inadequately prepared staff and overpriced private universities.

Students clash with riot police during a protest against the education system, in Santiago, on May 8, 2014. (AFP Photo)

In spite of President Bachelet’s promises, the demonstrators say they are not enough and are demanding more transparency in the process of reform.

“We know that the government is not going to give us any concrete answers and is not going to attack the fundamental problem of education," said Lorenza Soto, spokesperson for the Assembly of Secondary Students (ACES).

"What we've done so far is injecting more money into this same system that segregates," said Melissa Sepulveda, a student leader at Universidad de Chile. "This system generates one type of education for the rich and another for the poor."

Students clash with riot police during a protest against the education system, in Santiago, on May 8, 2014. (AFP Photo)

As part of her initiative to improve the situation for students and pupils across the country, Bachelet plans to fund the education overhaul with a corporate tax hike. The tax aims to raise around $8.2 billion that will contribute towards the formation of a free university system in the next six years, according to Bachelet.

Under former Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, the protest movement’s clamor for educational reform was largely ignored. Chile’s higher education system remains one of the world’s most segregated and expensive, a relic of the 1973-90 military dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

Students clash with riot police during a protest against the education system, in Santiago, on May 8, 2014.(AFP Photo)

Riot policemen scatter as a molotov cocktail thrown by students falls amid them during a protest against the education system on May 8, 2014 in Santiago. (AFP Photo)

Riot police arrest a student who was taking part in a protest against the education system, in Santiago, on May 8, 2014. (AFP Photo)

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