Santiago – Violence ensued here Thursday when riot police broke up a march by students a day after the collapse of talks between the students and the Chilean government on reforms to the country's highly stratified educational system.
At least 28 people were arrested, while six police and two civilians were injured, Santiago provincial Gov. Cecilia Perez said in a preliminary report.
Media outlets reported the arrest of a television cameraman and injuries to two other journalists.
The students, who are demanding the government make free, quality education available to all Chileans, had a permit to march from the campus of the University of Santiago, but decided instead to begin the procession from the more centrally located Plaza Italia square.
When the students gathered at Plaza Italia, they were confronted by riot police on horseback, tear gas and water cannon.
Most of the students fled, but some fought back with rocks and sticks, pulled down security barriers and set barricades ablaze.
The disturbances forced businesses to close, shut down several metro stations and blocked traffic on La Alameda, the capital's main thoroughfare.
Disorder spread into the upscale Providencia neighborhood, where groups of masked youths blocked streets and set up a barricade.
Thursday also witnessed clashes on a much smaller scale in the cities of Valparaiso, Concepcion, Temuco and Valdivia.
The disturbances were "solely due to the irresponsibility of those leaders who convened a march knowing that that location was not authorized," Gov. Perez said.
"The government is the guilty one for refusing everything, we request permission to march and they do not give it, we ask for free education and neither (do they give that)," the most prominent student leader, Camila Vallejo, said via Twitter.
Prior to the march, she said the Confech group representing university students would only resume talks with the government if officials presented a new proposal on making education free.
The government, Education Minister Felipe Bulnes said Thursday, offered guaranteed college scholarships for qualified students from the bottom 40 percent of the economic scale and combination of grants and loans for people in the next-lowest quintile.
Chile's public schools and universities were neglected by the 1973-1990 dictatorship of the late Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who embraced doctrinaire free market policies.
For-profit schools mushroomed under the military regime and the trend continued after democracy was restored, even during the 1990-2010 tenure of the center-left Concertacion coalition.
Students accuse the current president, right-wing billionaire Sebastian Piñera, of seeking to push through "a privatizing agenda.