Chilean police, students clash on eve of Copa AmericaWednesday, June 10, 2015
SANTIAGO, Chile — (AFP) Chilean police fired tear gas and water cannon Wednesday to break up a large student protest that turned violent on the eve of the Copa America, the South American football championship.
The protest was the latest in a series of rallies by students who say President Michelle Bachelet's education reforms are insufficient to overhaul a deeply unequal system inherited from late dictator Augusto Pinochet.
Carrying a giant golden trophy with the inscription "The cup of free education," students and teachers swarmed a main avenue through central Santiago.
Organizers said 200,000 people took part in the protest.
They marched peacefully for several blocks before clashes broke out between groups of masked demonstrators and the heavy contingent of riot police watching over the crowd.
The demonstrators threw stones and other projectiles at the police, who used tear gas and water cannon to disperse them. Police and protesters were wounded in the clashes, an AFP photographer said.
The students, who have been protesting against the education system since 2011, also accuse police of using excessive force to break up recent demonstrations.
Earlier in the day, protesters lit barricades on fire to block traffic for several minutes during the morning commute in central Santiago.
The students sought to use the attention on the Copa America, which kicks off in the capital Thursday when the hosts play Ecuador, to rally support for their cause.
"Practically all Chile is talking about is the Copa America. But this event can't be an excuse to forget about our demands," student leader Javiera Reyes told journalists.
"On this supposedly festive occasion, we want to demonstrate that Chile's students are not satisfied with the reforms," 18-year-old demonstrator Alejandro Tapia told AFP.
The march also drew public school teachers, who launched an indefinite strike 11 days ago to protest a reform measure that will link pay rises to performance.
Bachelet won a second term in 2013 with promises to launch an ambitious reform of the education system.
In January, she signed the first reform bill, opening university education to all students and banning for-profit activities at state-funded schools.
Last month, she announced a bill to provide free university education to 60 percent of the poorest students starting next year, reaching 70 percent in 2018 and 100 percent in 2020.
But her reform push has slowed recently amid a series of damaging corruption scandals, including one involving her son.