Chile's president says students who seized schools could be evicted
In this April 11, 2013 file photo, Chilean students march through the streets demanding free education in Santiago, Chile, Thursday, April. 11, 2013. Students say the system still fails them, with poor public schools, expensive private universities, unprepared teachers and unaffordable loans. The protests that have rocked Brazil in recent days is part of a trend of demonstrations in recent years throughout Latin America, which although they have no direct connection, that demand improved public services, an end to corruption and show frustration with the dominant political classes. (AP Photo/Luis Hidalgo, File)
Published Tuesday, June 25, 2013 4:30PM EDT
SANTIAGO, Chile -- Protesting Chilean students who have seized control of dozens of high schools risk being evicted soon, President Sebastian Pinera said on Tuesday.
The schools will be used as voting sites during the primary presidential election on June 30. Pinera said that students must leave or risk being removed by force to protect the rights of Chilean voters.
"We're not going to allow a small minority to break the law and take away the democratic right of 13 million Chileans to vote in the primary elections this Sunday," Pinera said in a televised address.
"The government is going to be prudent in this matter and prefers dialogue, but it will also act firmly to carry out the law."
Students took over the schools to demand education reform two weeks ago. Government officials and presidential candidates have been urging them to end the protests fearing clashes ahead of the primaries.
The army must ensure safety conditions during the elections under Chilean law, but the interior minister has said that police would intervene instead.
Leading presidential candidate Michelle Bachelet said over the weekend that she's against the takeovers but called on the government to prevent a "bloodbath."
The changes sought by students would overhaul a school system that has been privatized since the 1973-90 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
Mass demonstrations initially raised expectations for profound changes in Chile. But two years after the first protests, students say they still haven't seen real benefits. Protesters say the system still fails them with poor quality public schools, expensive private universities and education loans at interest rates that most can't afford.
Pinera's approval ratings have plunged with the student protests, making him the most unpopular Chilean leader since Pinochet.