17 Aug 2012

Police crack down on Chilean school occupation

9:26 pm on 17 August 2012

Police in Chile have detained 139 people, most of them teenagers, who were occupying three schools in the capital, Santiago, in continuing protests against the Government's education policies.

In what's seen as the biggest protest movement since the country's return to democracy in 1990, Chilean students have been holding ongoing mass protests to demand free, high-quality public education for all students.

There were violent clashes as police moved into the buildings, and the BBC reports the action seems to mark a hardening of the Government's stance toward the protest.

Student leader Camila Vallejo criticised the action.

"It is a direct assault on public education and on the chance to advance towards ending inequality in Chile," she said.

Police used water cannon to evict the students, who threw stones. They had been occupying the three secondary schools - Dario Salas, Miguel de Cervantes and Confederacion Suiza - for several days.

Other schools remain under the control of students.

"The use of force was necessary for the rule of law," said police chief Victor Tapia.

The campaign for educational reform is the biggest protest movement Chile has seen since the return to democracy in 1990.

Students say Chile's education system, usually seen as the best in Latin America, is profoundly unfair.

They say middle class students have access to some of the best schooling in Latin America, while the poor have to be content with under-funded state schools.

President Sebastian Pinera, Chile's first conservative leader for 20 years, announced earlier this year tax reforms aimed at raising money to help fund the country's education system.