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Chilean students arrested in Santiago schools

media captionChile

Police in Chile have detained 139 people - most of them teenage students - who were occupying three schools in the capital, Santiago.

There were violent clashes as police moved into the buildings.

The occupation is part of continuing protests against the government's education policies.

Chilean students have held months of mass protests in the past year to demand free, high-quality public education for all.

The BBC's Gideon Long in Santiago says the action seems to mark a hardening of the government's stance towards the protest.

Elite schools

Student leader Camila Vallejo, who came into prominence in Chile during last year's protests, criticised the action.

"It is a direct assault on public education and on the chance to advance towards ending inequality in Chile," she said.

Police used water cannon to evict the students, who threw stones. They had been occupying the three secondary schools - Dario Salas, Miguel de Cervantes and Confederacion Suiza - for several days.

Other schools remain under the control of students.

"The use of force was necessary for the rule of law," said police chief Victor Tapia.

Government spokesman Andres Chadwick said he backed the order issued by the mayor of Santiago, Pablo Zalaquett, of evicting the students.

"We reject the violence of a small group of students who occupy those schools, often wearing balaclavas. Their sole purpose is to disrupting classes and normal life," said Mr Chadwick.

The campaign for educational reform is the biggest protest movement Chile has seen since the return to democracy in 1990.

Students say Chile's education system, usually seen as the best in Latin America, is profoundly unfair.

They say middle class students have access to some of the best schooling in Latin America, while the poor have to be content with under-funded state schools.

President Sebastian Pinera, Chile's first conservative leader for 20 years, announced earlier this year tax reforms aimed at raising money to help fund the country's education system.

His popularity dropped at the height of the students' protests last year.

More on this story

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