600,000 Chilean students strike, in first major challenge for Bachelet

Nearly 600,000 high school students walked out of classrooms across the country Tuesday to demand reforms in Chile's education law, including a federal takeover to reduce inequality between rich and poor schools.

Only four weeks old, the students' movement has picked up support from teachers, parents, universities and politicians and has become the first major challenge facing the fledgling government of Socialist Michelle Bachelet.

The one-day strike included the school attended by the president's youngest daughter.

Sporadic demonstrations broke out in the capital of Santiago and other cities, and police used water cannons and tear gas to scatter protesters. At least 12 people were injured, including two officers, and more than 200 people were arrested, police said.

More than 1,000 students were arrested during a single day earlier this month during mass demonstrations.

The students began with modest demands such as reduced fares on public transportation and elimination of a US$38 (Ђ30) fee for an exit exam that lets them apply for college. They demanded that three hours recently added to the school day be dedicated to sports, the arts or other activities.

The movement spread from Santiago to the provinces and the demands expanded to include deep reforms of the country's education law, which was issued by former dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet a day before he left office in 1990.

The law assigns responsibility for public education to municipalities, which critics say breeds inequality because of regional differences in available resources. A monthly government subsidy of US$57 (Ђ45) per student does not compensate, they say, reports AP.


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