Friday, October 07, 2011

Chile: 250 arrests, unions call nationwide strike

By FEDERICO QUILODRAN - Associated Press | Oct. 7, 2011

SANTIAGO, Chile — Chile's union and student leaders called Friday for
shutting down the nation's economy for a day in response to a police
crackdown on education reform demonstrations that resulted in more than
250 arrests and left 30 people injured.

Arturo Martinez, who runs the CUT labor coalition, set the nationwide
strike for Oct. 19. By his side was student leader Camila Vallejo, who
accused the government of letting police attack peaceful marchers Thursday
in violation of Chile's constitution.

But the government warned that it will respond firmly to any violence
stemming from mass protests.

"Our hand won't tremble and we won't show any weakness in seeking to
control situations of public order," said government spokesman Andres

"They're not going to weaken us by attacking police and making them
victims," he added.

The government refused to authorize Thursday's march, which was called by
students after talks on demands for free, better-funded and higher-quality
state-run education through the university level broke down Wednesday

Police turned out in large numbers even before their march began, using
water cannons, tear gas and officers on horseback to keep about 10,000
students from gathering. Officers chased rock-throwing protesters onto
university campuses and fired tear gas into the student government
headquarters, Vallejo said.

By day's end, 168 had been arrested in the capital, and more than 100 more
around Chile. Police said 25 officers and five civilians were injured.

The protests continued into Thursday night, with large numbers of Chileans
turning out to bang pots and pans across metropolitan Santiago.

Chadwick defended the police response, which included arrests of at least
five journalists as they covered the disturbances, prompting a strong
protest from Chile's journalists' union and news organizations.

"If the police overreacted, we're going to control that, but we are going
to respect the police, we are going to support the police, because it's
the only way we can apply the law, work within the law and respect the
law," Chadwick said.

The prolonged conflict seems to have hit a dead end. Education Minister
Felipe Bulnes and President Sebastian Pinera are rejected the key student
demands of changing Chile's largely privatized system, which puts most of
the burden of funding education on individual families, with one that
gives the state a central role in ensuring free, high-quality education.
The activists want to finance it by raising taxes on the rich and

Bulnes said Friday that the government is not preparing any new proposals
to try to get students back to the negotiating table, beyond the 21-point
plan Pinera already sent to Congress, which reforms the existing
private-focused system but ignores several of the movement's key demands.

Vallejo said the students will prepare now to make the government pay in
the next elections, and "keep this movement going as long as we have to."

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