SANTIAGO — Students seeking a free public university education clashed with police in downtown Santiago on the second day of roiling street protests for education reform involving some 25,000 people.
As with other recent demonstrations, the protests degenerated into violence, when hundreds of masked demonstrators began to throw stones and Molotov cocktails at police at the end of the event and attacked a gas station. They also erected barricades and set tires ablaze.
Chilean police — also true to form with their response to earlier violence this week — answered with tear gas and water cannons.
At least 373 people have been arrested since early Tuesday throughout the country during similar brief but violent clashes. In the suburbs of La Pincoya and Reina, eight police officers were injured and 10 people were arrested, police officials told AFP.
A Spanish TV cameraman and a Chilean television assistant were hurt by rocks thrown by protesters.
Youth-led protests began to be seen in the Chilean capital in May, but have been on hiatus for several weeks. The relaunch of the demonstrations comes after talks between the government and student leaders broke down.
The Chilean Students Confederation called for two days of protests with the backing of some 70 other organizations, including the country’s largest labor confederation and a teachers’ group.
The government denounced the violence and the destruction of private and public property, saying it would impose strict new security measures after protesters burnt a bus.
The students should “find another way to express their views that doesn’t involve violence and destruction, which does nothing to advance the dialogue,” said Deputy Interior Minister Rodrigo Ubilla.
But the head of the student group insisted that the protests were peaceful for the most part, and blamed the unrest on a relatively small band of disaffected rowdies.
“Violence doesn’t help anyone, it hurts us,” said Camilo Ballesteros, who criticized the government “for its inability to identify the small group” of troublemakers that he said was responsible for the unrest.
The protests are Chile’s biggest since the end of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship more than two decades ago.
Amid dozens of demonstrations in recent months, 1,567 people have been arrested, 348 charged and 12 detained, according to Santiago provincial Governor Cecilia Perez.
The latest student upheaval also coincides with youth-led Occupy Wall Street protests in New York and other major cities across the globe.
Students said they have rejected further negotiations with the government because it had not moved toward their demands for free public education from grade school through university.
At the moment, only about 40 percent of students qualify for free education based on parents’ income.
Classes have been on hold for months in many schools and universities during the demonstrations, which routinely draw tens of thousands of students into the streets.
The government has said the students are radicals with whom it has been futile to negotiate.