Clashes in Chile as workers stage 48-hour strike

Violence erupted on the streets of several cities on Wednesday

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Chile is set for the second day of a 48-hour national strike called by the main trade unions who are demanding a raft of reforms.

Wednesday's stoppage began peacefully but violent clashes erupted after some demonstrators erected burning barricades and threw stones.

Officials said 348 people were arrested and dozens injured.

The stoppage comes amid ongoing student protests to press for education reform.

Chile's main trade union federation, the CUT, said civil servants, transport and dock workers, teachers and students had joined the stoppage.

But the government said most workers had ignored the strike call.

The protests began peacefully with people banging of pots and pans in a show of discontent known as "cacerolazo".

But some protesters threw stones and burned tires in several cities, including the capital, Santiago. Riot police responded with water cannon and tear gas to dismantle roadblocks on main streets.

Wholesale change

Student groups have been protesting for weeks to press for changes to the education system, arguing the current one is under-funded and unequal.

Santiago International Airport employees, left, demonstrate during a national strike in Santiago, Chile, on 24 August 2011 Unions said disruption was widespread but officials said effects were minimal

The unions' demands include changes to pensions, health care and taxes, as well as constitutional reform.

Finance Minister Felipe Larrain said the stoppage would cost the economy $200m (£122m) a day.

"We want to be able to push ahead with our programmes," he was quoted as saying by Reuters.

"Government programmes are not created in the streets but at the polls."

President Sebastian Pinera has pledged extra funding for students, including increased grants and reduced interest rates on student loans.

But students say this is not enough.

The education protests come as President Pinera, in office since March last year, has seen his approval ratings drop to under 30%.

"We all want education, health care and many more things for free, but I want to remind them that nothing is free in this life. Someone has to pay," Mr Pinera said last week.

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