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Chilean youths, police clash on ‘combatant day’

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) – Bands of hooded youths clashed with police in Chile’s capital Thursday during another round of riots on what has come to be known as the “day of the combatant.”

Young people have been staging the violence every March 29 in memory of two youths killed by police in 1985 during the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

Chile has been democratic for more than two decades and other activists criticized the rioting, saying the violence is used by Chilean news media and government officials to weaken support for movements pushing for social change.

They complain that in the past year peaceful marches by hundreds of thousands people calling for improvements in education, environmental protection and economic fairness have been marred by small bands of youths breaking off to clash with police.

Viviana Diaz, longtime director of a group of families of victims of the 1973-1990 dictatorship, said the extremists should give up violence and instead dedicate the “day of the combatant” to learning about what the two youths killed in 1985 were trying to accomplish.

“For me that would be better. And not to remember this day in a way that doesn’t contribute anything,” she told Radio Cooperativa.

More than 1,500 police were deployed and used tear gas and water cannons to disperse hundreds of protesters from inside and outside the campus of the University of Santiago. The university suspended classes, and nearby traffic was snarled.

The human rights group Londres 38 announced it would sponsor a debate focused on how the day should be remembered.

“As time passes, the media and successive governments have used it to criminalize social protests … we believe that the original meaning of this day should be rescued: That’s to say, a day to remember those youths who committed themselves to responding to the demands of their communities and fighting to obtain better living conditions for the people,” the group said in a statement.

After Chile returned to democracy in 1990, a judicial investigation into the killings of the Vergara Toledo brothers was reopened. A police chief was sentenced to 15 years in prison, and two other officers got 10 year sentences.

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