SANTIAGO, Chile — A land dispute on Easter Island turned violent Friday when riot police evicting islanders from their ancestral home were surrounded by rock-throwing protesters. About two dozen people were injured in a seven-hours-long confrontation.
The clash began at 5 a.m. when officers moved in to evict 10 people from the home they had been occupying since ousting a government official from the property in September, Rapa Nui lawyer Maka Atan told The Associated Press.
The Rapa Nui resisted and the violence left 17 officers and eight civilians hurt, according to police. Three islanders and one policeman were evacuated to mainland Chile for treatment. But protesters said that 19 islanders were injured and denied seeing any police hurt.
The official native name of Easter Island, known for its stunning gigantic stone heads known as Moais, is Rapa Nui, and that's what many natives call themselves, refusing to identify with Chile, which annexed the island in 1888.
In recent years, tourism and migration have increased pressure to control available land on the 10 mile (16 kilometer) by 15 mile (24 kilometer) island, and the Rapa Nui have increasingly taken matters into their own hands, seizing a dozen properties they said were illegally taken from their families generations ago.
But Atan, speaking by phone from the island 2,237 miles (3,580 kilometers) west of Chile, said riot police used batons and shotguns against them, firing pellets at close range at their heads. He said he himself was shot in the back with pellets.