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Chile student demonstrations toll: 250 arrests, 30 injured; Unions call for national shutdown
SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) ' 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 Chadwick.
"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 night.
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 businesses.
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."