Chileans plant bombs in protest of pope’s visit

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - WORLD - By Pas­cale Bon­nefoy

SAN­TIAGO, CHILE >> Fire­bombs ex­ploded be­fore dawn Fri­day at three churches in San­tiago, Chile’s cap­i­tal, an act of vi­o­lence aimed at Pope Fran­cis, who is to be­gin a week­long visit to Chile and Peru on Mon­day. The po­lice de­fused two other ex­plo­sive de­vices that failed to det­o­nate out­side other churches later in the day.

No one was in­jured, and only mi­nor phys­i­cal dam­age was re­ported. Pres­i­dent Michelle Bachelet ap­pealed for calm, urg­ing Chileans to wel­come the first pa­pal visit since John Paul II vis­ited Chile in 1987. “I also want to in­vite you all to ex­pe­ri­ence this visit in a cli­mate of re­spect, sol­i­dar­ity and hap­pi­ness,” Bachelet said in a state­ment.

No or­ga­ni­za­tion im­me­di­ately claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tacks, but pam­phlets left at the sites of the first three bomb­ings al­luded to sev­eral is­sues, in­clud­ing the plight of the Ma­puche, an in­dige­nous peo­ple who have been bat­tling log­gers and farm­ers in the im­pov­er­ished re­gion of Arau­ca­nia in south­ern Chile.

Early on Wed­nes­day, Pope Fran­cis is to fly to Te­muco, cap­i­tal of the Arau­ca­nia re­gion, about 400 miles south of San­tiago. The gov­ern­ment has in­ten­si­fied se­cu­rity mea­sures there, with more than 4,000 ad­di­tional po­lice of­fi­cers and spe­cial forces troops, even though Fran­cis is ex­pected to stay only for a few hours.

The pope will hold a re­li­gious ser­vice at the Te­muco air­port. Mon­signor Hec­tor Var­gas Basti­das, bishop of Te­muco, told the news agency ACI Prensa that the pope wanted to visit “ex­is­ten­tial bor­ders, where there is pain, where there is suf­fer­ing, where there are wounds, where there is poverty.”

But sev­eral mil­i­tant in­dige­nous groups see the Ro­man Catholic Church as be­ing closely as­so­ci­ated with the his­tory of op­pres­sion, and they have staged ar­son at­tacks against churches in the re­gion. In Novem­ber, hooded ac­tivists set fire to a bus and scat­tered pam­phlets af­ter the pope’s visit to the re­gion was an­nounced.

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