Chile indigenous Mapuches mourn Columbus Day

An indigenous Mapuche boy blows a horn during a protest in the Chilean capital, Santiago The Mapuche are demanding the return of their ancestral territories

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Around 10,000 people have marched in the Chilean capital Santiago in support of the indigenous Mapuche people.

The protest marked the 519th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the Americas, the start of the Spanish conquest.

The Mapuche are Chile's largest indigenous minority.

In recent years they have been involved in land disputes with farmers and timber companies in their homeland in Araucania in southern Chile.

The anniversary of Columbus's first landfall on 12 October 1492 is a public holiday in Chile and across the Americas.

For indigenous groups such as the Mapuche it is a day of mourning.

'Usurpers'
Mapuche activist in colourful costume The march was also a celebration of Mapuche culture

"It signifies the arrival of the Spanish usurpers and all they brought with them, colonialism and imperialism," Mapuche leader Manuel Diaz told the Spanish news agency Efe.

Dressed in traditional costumes and carrying flags, the Mapuche activists marched peacefully through the centre of Santiago.

They demanded the return of ancestral territories in southern Chile currently owned by farmers and forestry companies.

They also called for the release of Mapuche "political prisoners" jailed for their role in land occupations.

Last year Chilean President Sebastian Pinera promised new funds for development in Araucania in response to the Mapuche protests.

At the end of the demonstration a small group of masked youths clashed with riot police, who responded with tear gas and water cannon.

But city authorities said the violence was not directly linked to the indigenous march.

Such street clashes have been a frequent feature of a bitter dispute between student groups and the government over Chile's education system that has has been going on since May.

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