THE WORLDPOST
08/25/2011 11:41 am ET Updated Oct 25, 2011

Chile Government Protests: Violence Rocks Santiago Before Peaceful Marches (PHOTOS)

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Tens of thousands of Chileans marched peacefully Thursday, demanding profound changes in the country's heavily centralized and privatized form of government, after scattered violence throughout the night raised the arrest toll to more than 450. (Scroll down for photos)

Union members, students, government workers and Chile's center-left opposition parties joined the nationwide two-day strike, which included four separate marches in the capital Thursday as well as similar demonstrations across the country. In many areas, families have grabbed spoons and spilled into the streets each night, participating in noisy pot-banging shows of support for the activists.

But violence also has broken out, with hooded, rock-throwing protesters confronting police, looting stores, burning cars and setting up fiery barricades. Authorities said Thursday that 300 buses were damaged by thrown rocks and a train car was set ablaze overnight. The overall arrest toll rose above 450, and at least 42 people were injured, Deputy Interior Minister Rodrigo Ubilla said.

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Chile Education Protests
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Chile Education Protests

While many youths, particularly in poorer neighborhoods, have been seen throwing rocks at police, it is not clear who is behind all the violence. Government leaders accused student and union leaders of failing to control their people, while activists alleged that undercover police and right-wing activists stirred up trouble. One of the buildings attacked overnight was the headquarters of the teachers union that is demanding the government invest far more to guarantee free and equal quality public education.

Ubilla said seven more officers were wounded by projectiles overnight, for a total of 26 so far.

People burned a train car and looted municipal offices in La Granja, in a southern area of Santiago. Many confrontations took place in darkness and confusion after activists caused blackouts in poor neighborhoods.

One of the barricades that remained in place Thursday was outside the headquarters of the University of Chile, which has been occupied by students since the conflict began three months ago. Other university students also put up barricades before marching with union workers who organized the general strike, which is scheduled to end Thursday at midnight.