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17 Aug, 2012 09:09

Chilean police storm student sit-in, arrest 139 (VIDEO)

Chilean Police deployed tear gas and water cannons against student protestors as they stormed schools in Santiago where the activists had held a weeklong sit-in. Officers arrested 139, claiming the use of force was “necessary to maintain order.”

Police action occurred at the Dario Salas, Miguel de Cervantes and Confederacion Suiza schools at the behest of Santiago Mayor Pablo Zalaquett. Water cannons and tear gas were used to disperse students who resisted arrest and brawled with police.Police officers forcibly entered Miguel de Cervantes with a water cannon and climbed over fences to capture the students.After failing to negotiate an agreement with students, Zalaquett threatened to withdraw their scholarships, provoking the ire of other mayors who branded it an “abuse of power.”In the wake of the evictions, Zalaquett said he would have preferred for there to have been no arrests, but added that the “students were given a chance to leave peacefully, but they didn’t take it.” The Chilean government rejects the sit-ins as a form of protest, he said, calling on the students’ parents to intervene.Diego Mellado, vice-president of a Chilean student rights group, said that the eviction would only provoke students into further resisting police action. “We have tried to be as peaceful as possible. They have evicted us three times and all three have been peaceful,” Mellado said.The Chilean student movement erupted last year, calling for the Chilean government to make reforms to the country's education system. The protesters demands include free public education, and a call for an end to the privatization of the country’s university system, which is one of the most expensive in the world.Thousands of students in Santiago have protested during the last year, but their actions have earned few concessions from President Sebastian Pinera’s government.The Pinera administration pledged to offer more scholarships and lower interest rates on student loans, but  refused to enact the structural reforms the protesters are demanding.“What we’re seeing here is a minority group of students in no more than six schools in Santiago that have once again used force to try and get what they want,” Andres Chadwick, spokesperson for the Chilean Ministry of Education said.

Higher education on the ropes

Despite the government's refusal to continue dialogue with the student protesters, the Chilean Parliament is under pressure to enact the promised changes.“The public education system in Chile is dying, we are losing children at an unprecedented rate. Last year 38 percent of students in Santiago had to repeat a year,” Zalaquett said.The Chilean school system was privatized in 1982, under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. The government announced plans to raise $1 billion for education through taxes, but student protesters argued that spending more money will not solve anything without serious structural reforms.