Chile truckdrivers call for country-wide strike after nine-year old girl shot

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Truckdrivers in Chile late on Sunday called for a countrywide strike to begin Thursday if President Sebastian Pinera and Congress do not act immediately to stem a rising tide of attacks against their number in Chile’s Araucania region.

The threat of a walk-off comes after a nine-year-old girl was hospitalized with a gunshot wound after an attack on her father’s cement truck. Police have launched an investigation but have yet to identify suspects.

Chile’s 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 country’s National Confederation of Cargo Transport (CNTC) said Congress had failed to pass laws necessary to stop these kinds of attacks and punish them adequately.

“We demand that Congress urgently ... approve the 13 laws related to the prevention, persecution and sanctioning of crime,” they said in a statement, referring to bills currently under review by lawmakers.

Barring that, they said, a strike would begin after midnight on Thursday. They encouraged others to join in the walk-off to ensure “the re-establishment of the rule of law.”

Government spokesman Jaime Bellolio on Monday blamed the opposition for holding up legislation currently in the senate. He said the government rejected “ultimatums” that would put at risk the country’s supply chains.

The Ministry of the Interior would seek attempted homicide charges against those responsible for the attack, he added.

Mapuche groups renounced the attack. It was still not immediately clear who, if anyone, had claimed responsibility.

The Araucania is home to many of the country’s 1.7 million indigenous Mapuche. Indigenous activists say their lands are increasingly threatened by agriculture, forestry and other industries, and blame the state for failing to uphold their historical rights.

Militant groups who say they fight for Mapuche rights have claimed responsibility for some previous attacks on truck drivers and companies, police have said.

Reporting by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Richard Pullin