Chilean officials hope to launch talks with students

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

SANTIAGO -- Chilean Education Minister Felipe Bulnes vowed Monday to start talks soon with students after nearly five months of demonstrations to protest teaching standards in the country.

Bulnes said he expects the CONFECH student confederation to join him in “promptly initiating dialogue,” on the eve of a meeting called by the body, which gathers members from 25 public universities.

The atmosphere seems ripe for dialogue after media reports claimed the government was ready to soften its position and accept some of the demands.

La Tercera newspaper said the government had pledged to withdraw two education bills sent to Congress with no input from the students.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, a center-right billionaire who came to power in March 2010, has stubbornly rejected the protesters' demands in public.

He has shrugged off calls for the school year to be rearranged, and said that 70,000 high school students making such calls and refusing to make up course credits had simply wasted a year.

But on Sunday, Pinera sounded an optimistic note, saying: “Soon, I think we will have very good news. We are very happy and optimistic.”

Tens of thousands of students have turned out for regular demonstrations for more than four months.

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