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Indigenous woman picked to reform constitution vows to 're-found' Chile

Indigenous academic Elisa Loncon speaks after being elected as head of the new 155-member constitutional assembly in the National Congress in Santiago, on July 4, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

A woman from Chile's indigenous Mapuche people has been elected to head a new assembly charged with writing the country's new constitution.

Ninety-six members of the new 155-strong constitutional assembly, which was inaugurated on Sunday in the capital city Santiago to draft a more equitable Constitution for the South American nation, voted for Elisa Loncon, a political independent, media reported on Monday.

"This agreement will transform Chile," the 58-year-old vowed while gesturing with a Mapuche flag in hand.

Loncon pointed out that the new constitutional convention would be representative of the diversity in Chile, meeting the aspirations of all those who make up the South American country.

"It is a dream of our ancestors and this dream has come true. It is possible, brothers and sisters, to re-found this Chile, to establish a relationship between the Mapuche people... and all the nations that make up this country," she said.

The old constitution, which was a remnant of the repressive regime of longtime strongman General Augusto Pinochet, was blamed for the social inequalities that sparked deadly protests in 2019.

The crisis in Chile started in mid-October over a price hike in metro fares. However, it swiftly unraveled into violent mass anti-government protests and widespread social unrest.

President Sebastien Pinera, who promised a raft of reforms to quell protests, wished Loncon "wisdom, prudence and strength" in leading the group elected to draft the new constitution.

Advocates hope that the new rule book will help spread power more equitably in the South American nation.

The 155-member constitutional assembly includes teachers, lawmakers, scientists, social workers and journalists, and a homemaker -- half of whom are women, including 17 indigenous people.

Loncon, herself, is a university professor and advocate of Mapuche people's legal and cultural rights.

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