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CHILE’S right-wing President Sebastien Pinera was accused of criminalising the country’s indigenous people on Tuesday when he announced a state of emergency in the Mapuche homeland.
Troops have been deployed to put down protests in the provinces of Malleco and Cautin, where the restrictions are expected to last for at least 15 days,
Locals fearing further state violence have said that “masses of soldiers” are stationed in nearby Concepcion ready to attack.
Mr Pinera sought to justify the state of emergency by alleging that indigenous campaigners were responsible for “repeated acts of violence linked to drug trafficking, terrorism and organised crime committed by armed groups.”
But he provided no evidence to support his claims and the move came days after government forces were accused of killing a human rights lawyer during a march in Santiago.
Denisse Cortes was killed and more than 20 people were injured in the Chilean capital when police attacked Mapuche activists as they rallied on Sunday to demand autonomy and the return of ancestral lands.
Witnesses said that Ms Cortes had been hit in the neck by a tear-gas canister fired by uniformed officers of the notorious carabineros.
The Mapuche, who make up about 12 per cent of Chile’s population, say that much of their land has been stolen by logging and mining companies with state backing.
Earlier this year, Mapuche academic Elisa Loncon was elected to lead an assembly that will draft a new constitution.
It is expected that the new charter will officially recognise the country’s indigenous people, Chile being the only Latin American country that fails to do so.
Mr Pinera faces criminal investigations relating to the 2010 sale of the Dominga mining project after details were leaked in the Pandora Papers. Critics say that his move against the Mapuche people is designed to deflect attention from the allegations against him.
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