Clashes as Chile students step up demos

Students clash with riot police during a march held to protest the slow pace of educational reform, in Santiago on May 26, 2016 (AFP Photo/Claudio Reyes) (AFP)

Santiago (AFP) - Hooded protesters pelted stones at police who fired tear gas and water cannons in the Chilean capital Thursday, as thousands of students staged fresh street rallies demanding free university education.

Students rallied in the center of Santiago, where security forces tried to block their path.

During similar disturbances on Saturday, a security guard choked to death in the smoke from petrol bombs at a protest near the national Congress in Chile's second-biggest city, Valparaiso.

Police told AFP that 117 people were arrested and 32 officers injured on Thursday.

Protesters are demanding that President Michelle Bachelet speed up a long-awaited reform to guarantee universal access to free public education in Chile.

They have been appealing for the past decade to change the current system dating to the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

Frustrated with delays to the reform, student groups have hardened their protests in recent days. On Tuesday, a group of protesters made it past security into the courtyard of government headquarters.

"We are tired of waiting," read the slogan on their banners as they marched on Thursday.

Marcelo Correa, spokesman for the national students' grouping CONES, promised more rallies.

"They are growing and getting stronger. If they do not listen to us we will give it everything we have got," he told CNN Chile.