State of emergency called in Chile's south

Chile's state of emergency will "safeguard public order and the rule of law", says Sebastian Pinera.
Camera IconChile's state of emergency will "safeguard public order and the rule of law", says Sebastian Pinera. Credit: AP

President Sebastian Pinera has declared a state of emergency in southern Chile amid disturbances and attacks sometimes claimed by indigenous Mapuche groups demanding the return of ancestral lands.

The decree, which covers 72 communities in two regions, limits freedom of assembly and movement and also allows the military to support police.

Such an order by the president can run for a maximum of 15 days, renewable for 15 more days with the agreement of Congress.

The measure affects 40 communities in the Biobio region and 32 in La Araucania.

In the latter region, violence and conflicts have dragged on for decades, including attacks on forestry machinery and trucks.

In neighbouring Biobio arsonists burned two churches.

Pinera said the state of emergency is "to be able to protect the population, to safeguard public order and the rule of law".

After learning of the measure, truckers began to gradually lift road blockades they had set up in both regions to demand greater safety on their routes.

La Araucania has spent years under the custody of militarised police, who have been criticised for the 2018 shooting of a young Mapuche.

A year earlier, a police intelligence unit fabricated evidence against eight Mapuches who were jailed for allegedly organising attacks in the area.

Some 12 per cent of Chile's 19 million people are Mapuches descended from the country's original people. Half of them live in poor rural communities.

The Spanish never managed to conquer the Mapuches, who were finally dominated by Chilean forces in the 18th century when they were pushed south and colonisers took over their lands.

Get the latest news from in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails