Beset by protests, Chile offers $4 billion for education

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 05, 2011 9:43 PM
Beset by protests, Chile offers $4 billion for education

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile's President Sebastian Pinera, beset by mass student protests over education standards and costs seen threatening his legislative agenda, proposed on Tuesday a $4 billion fund for higher education.

"We are proposing the creation of an education fund totaling $4 billion," Pinera said in a televised national address, saying it would be funded in part from earnings from the country's top export, copper.

Defying police water cannon and tear gas, hundreds of thousands of protesters led by students have marched in Chile's capital and main cities in recent weeks, piling fresh pressure on Pinera's center-right government that is already grappling with protests against energy projects and a looming strike at state copper giant Codelco.

Analysts say the protests are diverting attention away from negotiations in Congress over legislation on the minimum wage to maternity leave, hampering their passage.

Student protests have plagued successive governments in a country where they must pay toward their state education.

Pinera's approval rating hit a new low of 36 percent in May, a survey by pollster Adimark GfK showed last month, punished for his government's approval of a controversial hydro electric project and despite the strong economic recovery from the ravages of last year's devastating earthquake.

A billionaire, Pinera has also been buffeted by a scandal over credit irregularities at retailer La Polar that have rocked the stock market.

(Reporting by Antonio de la Jara and Simon Gardner; editing by Philip Barbara)