SANTIAGO, Chile - Violent clashes broke out in front of Chile's presidential palace on Thursday as truck drivers blocking roads outside Santiago reached the capital to protest against arson attacks by indigenous rights militants.

Police shot water cannons as Mapuche Indians and supporters of the protesting drivers clashed in front of La Moneda palace and at one of the capital city's main squares.

The drivers had travelled hundreds of miles from the south-central Araucania region. For hours authorities denied them access into Santiago until they were allowed to drive in front of government house Thursday night. They were towing vehicles they say were torched by Mapuche radical groups who are demanding a return of their ancestral lands and autonomous rule.

"I recognize that the state has failed in the past when for a long time - and way before this government - many of these acts remained unpunished," Interior Minister Jorge Burgos said, adding that he's willing to meet with the truckers and hear their demands.

Violence in the Mapuche struggle escalated in 2013 with a string of arson attacks, including one in which Jorge Luchsinger's parents died defending their property from hooded trespassers. On Thursday, Luchsinger reached a plaza in front of the presidential palace waving a burned flag found at the charred remains of his family's home.

"Government, let the truckers show their burned trucks in an organized way, their agricultural machinery, because we can't bring our burned homes, we can't bring all the things that they've burned," Luchsinger said.

A Mapuche indigenous healer was sentenced last year to 18 years in prison for the arson killings, a crime that prompted a national debate about the Chilean state's inability to manage disputes over ancestral indigenous lands.

The Mapuche, which means "people of the earth" in their Mapudungun tongue, are Chile's largest indigenous group. They resisted the Spanish conquistadors for more than 300 years, and ultimately won treaties with the Chilean state recognizing their right to everything south of the Bio Bio river, or roughly the entire southern half of the long, thin country.

But in the late 19th century, a new wave of European settlers arrived, and the treaties were broken, with Mapuche lands seized in violent takeovers.

Today, most of the over 1 million Mapuche live in Santiago's metropolitan area and on the fringes of ranches owner by the descendants of European colonizers and timber lands in Araucania. Even with the return of some lands in recent decades, the Mapuche hold a small fraction of what they controlled until the late 19th century.

A radical faction of the Mapuche in Araucania has occupied and burned farms and lumber trucks to demand the return of lands and the expulsion of timber companies they say damage the environment by planting millions of invasive pines and eucalyptus trees. Police, in turn, have been accused of violent abuses.