At least 25 people have reportedly been injured after police evicted indigenous inhabitants from buildings on Rapa Nui, widely known as Easter Island.
Since August this year, Rapa Nui people have occupied a number of buildings on land they claim is legally theirs.
A pro-Rapa Nui website claims that police used tear gas and shot rubber bullets at close range during the protests on Friday.
According to the BBC, officials have claimed 17 police officers and eight civilians were injured during the protests. Local witnesses have put the figure at 19 civilian injuries and deny any police were hurt.
Santi Hitorangi, a documentary filmmaker who was present at the raids, said, ‘What happened… is their way of trying to stop any attempt of the Rapa Nui people to reassert their right to the land. All we are asking for is title to the land. It’s a rightful claim. We are not asking the government for anything else.’
The Rapa Nui are indigenous Polynesians who live on Easter Island, famous for its large carved stone heads known as ‘moai’. The island was incorporated into Chile’s territory in 1888 despite being located more than 3000 km from the South American coast.
An increase in tourism and settlement on the small island has put mounting pressure on native inhabitants who reject the privatisation of their ancestral lands.
Parliamentary president to the island, Leviante Araki, told a Chilean radio station, ‘We are willing to die, we won’t accept them coming to handle our property. No, we will never leave.’
Meanwhile, Chile’s Interior Minister expressed hope that an agreement can be reached, but confirmed they will continue to evict illegal occupants. ‘In our country, nobody can live outside the law,’ he said.