VIDEO: Police, students clash amid rally for universal education in Chile

SANTIAGO – Chilean police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse thousands of students demonstrating for free education in the Latin American country.

The Confederation of Chilean Students, also known as Confech, held a march Wednesday to reject and oppose the proposed reforms to higher education offered by the government, continuing the movement for universal higher education in Chile.

Some 5,000 students took to the streets of Chile’s capital, Santiago, on Wednesday to protest the high costs of university education that have left many with crippling debts.

‘End the Debt’: 250,000 Chilean students take to the streets for free education

The protesters also took out a march in Valparaiso, as well as towns and cities.

The students were marching under the slogan: “Advancing toward free public education, without debt.”

“We hope that all students, workers, officials, and those who believe that there must be deep changes in the education system can participate,” the President of the Federation of Students of the Catholic University, Sofia Barahona said.

“We call all Chileans to protest and express themselves, because this is the opportunity we have to rectify and dispute education in Chile,” Daniel Andrade, President of the Federation of Students of University of Chile said.

Violence broke out after the demonstrators started pelting objects at police and tried to block the capital’s main avenue with fences.

Education in Chile is prohibitively expensive for many students, and leaves many more with crippling debts that generate huge rates of interest.

The fight for universal education access has become a swelling social movement in Chile, as many condemn President Michelle Bachelet’s rolling back of many promised reforms.

IN PICTURES: Thousands of students take to streets in protest of Chile’s education system

Earlier this month, thousands of students took to the streets of the Chilean capital to march against Chile’s education system.

The protest saw wide demographics of protesters ranging from mostly students, to grandparents in support of their grandchildren’s views. An initially peaceful protest turned violent when some protesters started breaking down metal barricades previously set up, and set fire to items.

The police retaliated by releasing tear gas and water spray, while protesters continue to hurl rocks and glass bottles at the police and their military vehicles.

Many protests in the past saw a similar response from the state police, which using tear gas and water cannons to subdue the students.

Crippling debts

President Michelle Bachelet’s principal campaign pledge was educational reform before she came to power in 2014, but due to the fall in international copper prices, Chile’s main export, she failed to fulfill her promise.

In 2015, however, she approved a long-awaited reform plan to provide free university education, which was strongly rejected by Confech saying it covered only 14 percent of tuition costs, and not all of it.

Since then, Chile has been the scene of a number of mass student protests, not only in the capital but also in other major cities.

Chile will hold presidential elections in November and the current front-runner, conservative Sebastian Pinera, has promised to roll back recent educational reforms if elected, preferring a system of scholarships to free tertiary education for poorer students.