Chilean truckers start strike over insecurity in southern Araucania

By Aislinn Laing

SANTIAGO, Aug 27 (Reuters) - Chilean truckers went on strike on Thursday in protest over violence affecting them in the country's restive Araucania province and the slow progress through congress of a raft of security and justice bills.

Trucks blocked an arterial route outside the capital Santiago toward the port city of Valparaiso in the early morning before dispersing with the promise of a larger blockade toward lunchtime.

Several points of the main highway headed south were also blocked by trucks parked across the road as drivers stood alongside with Chilean flags, according to local media and traffic reports.

The strike threat raised fears of an interruption to food and medical supply chains during the COVID-19 pandemic in the long thin country, which relies predominantly on road transport.

It comes after a nine-year-old girl was hospitalized with a gunshot wound after an attack on her father’s cement truck in the Araucania. Police have launched an investigation but have yet to identify suspects.

The Araucania has seen a spike in attacks on transport trucks and factories in recent months. The region of south-central Chile has long been convulsed by a simmering conflict between the indigenous Mapuche and the Chilean government.

The strike action is being led by the National Confederation of Chilean Cargo Transport (CNTC), one of three umbrella unions.

Its leader, Jose Villagran, said it had lobbied government for months without results.

"We are not going to cut supply chains but today, unfortunately, supply trucks will not be able to get through because we are here, until the government resolves this issue," he said. "We are asking for security not just for truck drivers but for all Chileans. We are frightened."

The larger National Federation of Truck Owners said it would not participate in the strike but added in a statement that it shared the CNTC's calls for law and order in the south.

(Reporting by Aislinn Laing; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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