Police unleash water cannons, tear gas on thousands of Chilean students (PHOTOS)

A student throws stones at riot police during a protest to demand that President Sebastian Pinera's government overhaul the education system to guarantee free, quality public education for all Chileans, in front of La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago on June 28, 2012 (AFP Photo/Claudio Santana)
Clashes erupted after tens of thousands of students marched in the Chilean capital of Santiago for education reform. Spanish press reported 15 police injured, and 250 students arrested.

Student leaders say over 150,000 protestors marched through heavy rains on a 5 kilometer march that wound through the Chilean capital on Thursday. Police put the number at closer to 40,000.

While initially peaceful, the protests quickly turned violent when some of the students hurled stones and a molotov cocktail at a car, setting it on fire.

Police responded swiftly, unleashing water cannons and tear gas on the increasingly agitated protesters.

“We saw a number of distressing things today,” said Luis Valdes, head of Santiago police force to journalists. “One of our police vans was attacked; we witnessed an attack on a detention vehicle, a public bus and several lootings.”

The governor of Santiago called on the leaders of the student movement to take responsibility for damages to public and private property during the march.

“The brutality carried out by this group of delinquents should be condemned without the slightest hesitation,” stressed governor of Santiago Cecilia Perez.

Student protests have been ongoing in Chile for over a year, with students demanding more government involvement and funding for secondary education. Higher education in Chile is among the worlds most expensive, with many students buried in debt after graduation. Also, although the number of students has gradually swelled over the years, no new universities have been built.

Students say that increased government university funding will ease the high tuition rates, through which much university activity is funded.

The government says it has made changes in response to the demands, but the students claim they have not gone far enough.

“We have a government that doesn’t want to listen, not only to social movements but also a parliamentary commission that has clearly identified profiteering in our institutions (universities),” said Noam Titelman, President of the Student’s Federation at the Catholic University.

A student kicks a tear gas canister during an anti-government rally demanding changes in the public state education system in Santiago June 28, 2012 (Reuters/Cristobal Saavedra)
A student kicks a tear gas canister during an anti-government rally demanding changes in the public state education system in Santiago June 28, 2012 (Reuters/Cristobal Saavedra)
A demonstrator is detained by riot police during an anti-government rally demanding changes in the public state education system in Santiago June 28, 2012 (Reuters/Carlos Vera)
A demonstrator is detained by riot police during an anti-government rally demanding changes in the public state education system in Santiago June 28, 2012 (Reuters/Carlos Vera)
AFP Photo/Claudio Santana
AFP Photo/Claudio Santana
AFP Photo/Claudio Santana
AFP Photo/Claudio Santana
AFP Photo/Victor Ruiz Caballero
AFP Photo/Victor Ruiz Caballero
Students beat an alleged plain-clothes policeman (AFP Photo/Hector Retamal)
Students beat an alleged plain-clothes policeman (AFP Photo/Hector Retamal)
People carry a huge Chilean flag during an anti-government rally demanding changes in the public state education system in Santiago June 28, 2012 (Reuters/Eliseo Fernandez)
People carry a huge Chilean flag during an anti-government rally demanding changes in the public state education system in Santiago June 28, 2012 (Reuters/Eliseo Fernandez)
A demonstrator walks on a huge Chilean flag during an anti-government rally demanding changes in the public state education system in Santiago June 28, 2012 (Reuters/Eliseo Fernandez)
A demonstrator walks on a huge Chilean flag during an anti-government rally demanding changes in the public state education system in Santiago June 28, 2012 (Reuters/Eliseo Fernandez)