An iconic part of Polynesia – remote Easter Island or Rapanui – has plunged into violence as Chilean authorities try to remove indigenous Polynesians from occupied buildings.
Photographic and video evidence is emerging of Chilean forces using rubber bullets and buckshot on the indigenous people who make up 2200 of the 5000 people on the island, 7000 kilometres east of New Zealand.
Media in Chile claim that 24 people have been injured as authorities try to remove indigenous people from buildings they occupied three months ago.
Chilean troops tear gassed and fired rubber bullets and buck shot at the Polynesian protesters, according to the protest website saverapanui.org.
The president of the Rapa Nui Parliament, Leviante Araki, had been shot twice and had been flown to Santiago for medical care, the website said.
Another, Richard Tepano, was shot at short range in his right eye and is now in critical condition in the hospital. Maori Pakarati was shot above his right eye and in his arm, a rubber bullet remains encrusted in his arm, saverapanui.org said.
The main occupation so far has been of the Hangaroa Hotel, along with several government offices and residences.
In the incident caught on video, Chilean troops moved into a government residency occupied by seven indigenous people. They remain under arrest.
“When the Rapanui gathered to protest this action, Chilean Special Forces starting firing their guns and using tear gas,” saverapanui.org said.
“The Rapanui responded by throwing rocks.”
A Chilean military plane landed on the island on Saturday with troops to evict the Polynesians, Associated Press reported.
Documentary filmmaker Santi Hitorangi told AP Polynesian families were refusing to back down.
“The arrival of the C-130 cargo plane with more police and armed swat teams adds to the psychological duress that’s happening here,” Hitorangi told AP.
Chilean Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter who is on the island said the challenge to law and order could not continue.
“There is a limit to these things and it was reached when there are illegal takeovers that cause damage to the island,” Hinzpeter told the daily La Tercera newspaper.
“The police forces acted in compliance with a court order. That’s how institutions function, and we all must follow them.”
Easter Island, the southeastern point of the Polynesian triangle, is a major tourist destination thanks to its giant Moai or carved heads.
Around 50,000 tourists a year visit the island, which also has a direct air connection from Auckland.
The indigenous people are believed to be culturally close to Maori and the island may have been originally occupied by voyagers from New Zealand.
Polynesians claim the Chileans are encouraging unchecked immigration to the island, which does not have the infrastructure to support immigration.
Polynesians claim the indigenous people face extinction on the island.
Easter Island, which was annexed by Chile in 1888, is a Unesco World Heritage Site.