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Chilean police captain arrested over woman's blinding during 2019 protests

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - A Chilean police special forces captain has been arrested on assault charges for the blinding of a woman hit by a tear gas canister during massive social protests that rocked the country in 2019.

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Fabiola Campillai, a trainee firefighter and mother of three children, was awaiting a bus to work in a southern suburb of the capital Santiago on Nov. 26 when she was hit in the face by a police-issue canister.

She was one of two Chileans left completely blind and more than 400 who suffered eye damage after being hit by projectiles fired during the sometimes violent protests over inequality that began in October last year. The unrest only petered out after the arrival of the coronavirus in March.

On Thursday night, investigators from the police Human Rights Squad detained special forces Captain Patricio Maturana.

In a tweet, the prosecutor’s office described him as “the main defendant in relation to the serious injuries caused to a woman ... that resulted in her total blindness.”

More than 30 people died, 3,000 were injured and 30,000 were arrested during the demonstrations.

The National Prosecutor’s Office said on Friday that to date a total of 62 law enforcement officials have been charged for crimes they are alleged to have committed during the social protests, which spurred 8,575 criminal complaints.

A total of 413 of the complaints related to people who suffered eye injuries, and 3,342 related to injures suffered from firearms, the office said.

On Aug. 21, police Lieutenant Colonel Claudio Crespo was detained for the blinding of 22-year-old psychology student Gustavo Gatica.

Chile’s National Human Rights Institute (INDH) warned in March that the failure to bring officers to justice in the cases of both Gatica and Campillai would cause further turmoil and mistrust of the police.

INDH Director Sergio Micco welcomed Friday’s detention but added: “It could have all happened much quicker, the Chilean police can do more.”

Jaime Bellolio, a government spokesman, said Friday’s arrest showed justice was taking its course. “We want the facts to be clarified as soon as possible so there is no impunity in our country.”

Reporting by Natalia Ramos, writing Aislinn Laing; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Tom Brown

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