Chile anti-migrant protesters destroy camps in tense north

By Fabian Cambero

SANTIAGO, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Chilean protesters marched against immigration and crime in the Andean country's far north on Sunday, with some violent factions destroying belongings from migrant camps in the streets amid growing tension in the region over border controls.

Photos showed protesters, many carrying Chilean flags, breaking up tent structures and bedding in the northern city of Iquique and putting it into a big pile, an echo of angry protests in September last year when camps were burned.

Despite pandemic restrictions in recent years, many migrants from Venezuela and elsewhere have kept trying to reach Chile, one of the wealthiest countries in the region, which has been rocked in recent years by protests over entrenched inequality.

"This can't go on," read one protest banner from Sunday's march in the coastal city by several thousand people, who were complaining about what they called a spike in illegal immigration and an increase in crime.

Local media reported that a group of protesters had attacked one migrant man. Videos on social networks showed the man lying on the ground surrounded by police officers while protesters, waving Chilean flags and holding saucepans, shouted at him.

The call to protest came after a group of Venezuelan migrants recently attacked police officers at a checkpoint, for which they were detained. Protesters on social media also called for strike action in the city over the situation.

Migration and crime were a big voter concern in presidential elections late last year, which were won by Gabriel Boric, 35, a leftist lawmaker and former student protest leader who comes into office in March.

(Reporting by Fabian Cambero; Writing Adam Jourdan; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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