Chile: Church burned down, at least 16 destroyed this year

A Catholic church has been burned down in southern Chile, according to police.

Masked demonstrators carry a cross with Jesus Christ, taken from inside a church, during a protest against government education reforms in Santiago, ChileReuters

Unknown attackers burned the church and destroyed two high-tension electricity towers, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Police said that at least 16 Catholic and Protestant churches have been burned so far this year in the Ercilla region where Mapuche indigenous activists are demanding recovery of traditional lands lost to Spanish invaders and post-colonial governments.

A message referring to a Mapuche resistance movement was reportedly left near the church. Officials said the power lines were cut down with electric saws.

In June, a Catholic church in the Chilean capital of Santiago was ransacked by students who were protesting against the government of President Michelle Bachelet.

The student protesters accused Bachelet of reneging on a number of promises regarding social and economic reforms, especially a planned overhaul of education.

At the end of the march through downtown Santiago, masked protesters entered the church and destroyed a ten-foot tall statue of Jesus.

A spokesman for the student union Confech, Gabriel Iturra, said the act was inappropriate and had been committed by a fringe group with little understanding of the movement's principles.

Chile's Interior Minister Mario Fernandez condemned the statue's destruction, saying: "What we have just seen is a very troubling symptom of what some people are starting to do to our country."

Violent clashes between students and police were a regular occurrence during the previous centre-right government of Sebastian Pinera, who was president of Chile between 2010 and 2014.