Chilean riot police have clashed with hundreds of Mapuche protesters and activists in the capital Santiago, demanding the immediate release of their spiritual leader.
The clashes erupted on Monday when Mapuche activists and their supporters filled the streets to protest the detention of their spiritual leader Francisca Linconao.
Linconao has been behind bars for the past three years over her alleged role in an arson attack and is awaiting trial.
Mapuche, comprising some 650,000 of Chile’s 17 million people, are a group of native inhabitants of south-central Chile, with their own culture and system of beliefs. Their decades-long struggle for jurisdictional autonomy, return of ancestral lands and cultural identity has put them into a conflict with Santiago.
Dozens of fully-geared police forces on Monday used batons, wooden sticks, tear gas and water canon to disperse the protesting crowd. At least five people were reportedly arrested and four police sustained injuries.
he government claims that Linconao and 10 others carried out an arson attack which led to the death of two wealthy landlords in 2013. Her health has deteriorated, reaching a life-threatening level, particularly due to a hunger strike she began last Friday.
Linconao, who is a prominent Mapuche voodoo doctor, also suffers from several complications, including chronic gastritis, prompting prison officials to rush her to hospital for treatment.
The protesters say her detention is part of a plan to criminalize the Mapuche fight for their ancestral lands. They are also concerned about their leader’s declining health that worsened after she started the hunger strike after an appeals court converted her house arrest into a prison term.