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Couple in Chile die defending home amid protests

SANTIAGO, Chile — An elderly couple whose family's vast landholdings have long been targeted by Mapuche Indians in southern Chile were killed in an arson attack early Friday while trying to defend their home, officials said.

The president flew to the scene and announced new security measures, including the application of Chile's tough antiterrorism law and the creation of a special police antiterror unit backed by Chile's military.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack. But officials said pamphlets condemning police violence and demanding the return of Mapuche lands were left at the scene.

Werner Luchsinger, 75, fired a weapon in self-defense and struck a man from the nearby Mapuche community of Juan Quintrupil before his home burned to the ground, regional police Chief Ivan Bezmalinovic said.

Luchsinger's wife, Vivian McKay, called relatives for help during the attack, but when they arrived 15 minutes later, the house was in flames and she didn't answer her phone, they said.

The attack began Thursday night as one of many protests around Chile commemorating the death five years ago of Mapuche activist Matias Catrileo, who was shot in the back by an officer who served a minor sentence and then rejoined the police.

Celestino Cordova Transito, 26, was detained near the scene Friday. Police have him under arrest in a hospital in Temuco, where he was being treated for a gunshot wound in the neck, the chief said.

The Mapuches' demands for land and autonomy date back centuries. A small fraction have been rebelling for decades.

Couple in Chile die defending home amid protests 01/04/13 [Last modified: Friday, January 4, 2013 9:51pm]

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