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School's Back: Chilean Cops Stock Up On Water Cannons

EL MOSTRADOR (Chile)

SANTIAGO -- The powerful student movement that erupted last year in Chile is showing signs it may be ready for an encore performance. That possibility hasn't escaped the attention of the Carabineros, the country's uniformed police force, which is arming itself – quite literally – for a new round of protests.

According to a website called Compras Públicas Chile Compra, the police have recently issued a purchasing order for approximately 5 million euros worth of mobile water cannons. The order is dated April 27, just two days after student leaders held their first major protest of the new school year. More than 50,000 people participated in the April 25 demonstration in the Chilean capital of Santiago.

An internal police report that appeared briefly on the site claimed that Carabineros were "limited" last year "in terms of the use and availability of water cannon vehicles." Once the order is complete, the police will add 10 such vehicles to their existing collection. Locals call the armored, water-spewing trucks "guanacos," after a type of llama that lives in Chile's far northern and southern regions that is known for spitting.

Dubbed the "Chilean Winter," by the international press, protests raged for eight months last year. Starting in January, student leaders took the southern Summer – which lasts until March – off. The movement has taken a major political toll on Chile's conservative president, Sebastián Piñera, whose approval rating is hovering around the 30% mark.

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