Monday, October 24, 2011

Protesting students seize Chile's Senate building

By EVA VERGARA - Associated Press | Oct. 20, 2011

SANTIAGO, Chile — Dozens of students and other protesters interrupted
a Senate committee meeting Thursday to demand a popular referendum on how
to resolve Chile's social problems, especially education.

Three youths climbed atop the committee room's table and unfurled a sign
reading "Plebiscite now" as Education Minister Felipe Bulnes and others
participating in the hearing by a Senate education subcommittee hurriedly
left. Activists shouted at Bulnes, who stumbled during scuffling on the
way out. A young man broke a window and threw coins at the Cabinet

The protesters then occupied the Senate headquarters in Santiago and
transmitted the situation live over the Internet by webcam. They urged
other students to converge on the building, which housed Chile's congress
before the 1973-90 military dictatorship, and then march to the
presidential palace Thursday night.

Police sealed off the building with metal barriers to keep more people
from entering and faced off with a crowd of about 600 Thursday night.
Protesters held up signs demanding "Free Education" and "Referendum Now."

The occupation of the Senate headquarters came just hours after riot
police violently evicted protesters from galleries at the current Congress
building in Chile's port city of Valparaiso.

Senate President Guido Girardi, a member of the opposition, promised that
the protesters at the Senate building would not be dislodged by force. His
promise drew criticism from pro-government legislators, including Sen.
Alberto Espina, who criticized Girardi for "a serious dereliction of duty"
in failing to ensure the security of the committee hearing.

University and secondary school students have been boycotting classes and
mounting demonstrations for nearly six months pushing their demand that
the government make extensive changes in Chile's education system. The
protests have been largely peaceful, but small groups of activists have
frequently fought with police after the marches end.

The protesters are demanding the government provide free public education
for all students, not just the poorest, and to improve the quality of
schooling. They also want state subsidies for private colleges reduced.

President Sebastian Pinera's government has said it cannot afford to make
education free for all Chileans, and student leaders have broken off
negotiations with the center-right administration.

Girardi talked with the occupiers Thursday night trying to persuade them
to leave on their own.

Pinera has sent his own proposals for education changes to Congress, and
appointed a commission of experts to provide him with further ideas in

Political leaders on both the right and left have said the issue will have
to be resolved in Congress, but student leaders say they want a national
referendum because they don't trust legislators.

The protests have won widespread sympathy for the students, while Pinera's
support has dropped to between 20 percent and 30 percent in opinion polls.

But Chile's constitution allows referendums in only very limited
circumstances, such as when Congress and the president cannot resolve
their differences.

Protesting students occupy Chile's Congress

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Dozens of students and protesters are occupying
part of Chile's Congress to demand a popular referendum on how to resolve
the country's social problems, especially education.

The group is transmitting its occupation live by webcam and is urging
people to gather outside the legislative building at 7:30 p.m. local time
(22:00 GMT) on Thursday.

The protesters in Congress held signs saying "Plebiscite Now" and "Free

The protest took place hours after anti-riot police violently evicted
protesters from the legislature in the port city of Valparaiso.

Protests by students to demand reforms to the education system have drawn
huge crowds.

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