SANTIAGO, Chile — Small groups of hooded protesters clashed with police, stoned cars and set up flaming barricades in Chile's capital on Wednesday, marring a largely peaceful nationwide demonstration by more than 100,000 students demanding education reform.
The violence began early in the day when protesters hurled Molotov cocktails at a police station. They also looted a restaurant and used its chairs for barricades, blocking rush hour traffic along some of Santiago's main roads. Police in riot gear responded with water cannons and tear gas.
"They are not students, they are criminals and extremists," Interior and Security Minister Andres Chadwick said at a press conference. "They've acted in a coordinated and planned way to provoke these acts of violence."
Police arrested 102 people and four officers were injured.
Teachers, dock workers and copper miners joined students in the national protest timed ahead of Sunday's presidential primaries.
Protesters demanded a wider distribution of Chile's copper wealth and reform of the education system that would put the state back in control of the mostly privatized public universities. Student leaders also want to change the tax system so the rich pay more.
Chile is the world's top copper producer and its fast-growing economy is seen as fertile ground for investors. But it is also plagued by vast income inequality and a costly education system that many say is unfair.
"This has to do with discontent that is deeply rooted in many sectors of society. But we're the first ones to sympathize with people who are innocent victims of this violence, because there's no way to justify these types of clashes," Andres Fielbaum, president of the University of Chile student federation told state television.
After two years of student marches that often paralyzed Chile's major cities and stoked expectations of change, students say they have seen few real benefits and the dispute over education reform remains a key electoral issue ahead of the Nov. 17 presidential election.
Luis Andres Henao on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LuisAndresHenao