Around 240 Chilean protesters detained after anti-government demonstration

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The protesters tried to march in front of the presidential palace, but it was cordoned off.
Image: Wikimedia Commons User:JorgeGG.

Around 240 demonstrators in the Chilean capital of Santiago were detained Friday after anti-government protests held against the country's education system and increasingly free market policies.

The annual protests, organized by the Revolutionary Left Movement, were held on the eve of the Day of the Youth Combatant. The day commemorates the deaths of Eduardo and Rafael Vergara, brothers who were assassinated on March 29, 1985 under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

The protesters, many of whom were students, reportedly threw rocks into Santiago's main street, prompting squads of riot police to spray tear gas into the crowds. Other protesters marched towards the presidential palace, but it was cordoned off and heavily guarded. Most of the 240 who were detained are expected to be released after their identities are confirmed.

In between skirmishes with police, some protesters handed out flyers explaining their views. They say the government has manipulated the education system to favor the rich. "We think this neo-liberal education system that the government has introduced should be stopped," said Saray Acevedo of the National Popular Coordinator of Students.

President Michelle Bachelet condemned the protests. "If one wants to pay homage to the tremendous tragedy of the Vergara brothers, during a period when Chile was not democratic, the right thing to do is guarantee that democracy means being able to express yourself but without violence," she said. "Democracy in Chile is solid and there is no justification for violence," Bachelet added.

Other Chileans who didn't take part in the demonstrations agree with some of the protesters' views. "There are so many problems," said Rodrigo Núñez, 39. "It is true education is expensive and marginalizes the poor. The cost of living is high. Electricity and gas prices are up. Look at how they protest in Argentina! I voted for this government and feel conned."

2 days before Friday's protests, a bomb exploded in a Santiago bank. Police blamed the attack on "anarchists", and they believe it was connected to the annual protests.

Additional protests are planned for Saturday, when the Day of the Youth Combatant will be formally recognized.