Clashes follow death of Pinochet

Clashes follow death of Pinochet
December 11th, 2006  

Topic: Clashes follow death of Pinochet

Clashes follow death of Pinochet

Clashes follow death of Pinochet

Thousands of Chileans have taken to the streets following the death of the country's former military ruler, Augusto Pinochet, at the age of 91.

Jubilant opponents danced in the centre of Santiago, Chile's capital, before clashes broke out. Police used water cannon and tear gas to control crowds.

Supporters mourned Gen Pinochet outside the military hospital where he died.

The general took power in a 1973 coup, and more than 3,000 people were killed or "disappeared" in his 17-year rule.

He was accused of dozens of human rights abuses as well as fraud but poor health meant he never faced trial.

Although Gen Pinochet's health had been poor for several years, doctors in Santiago had felt he was recovering after suffering a heart attack a week ago.

No state funeral or national mourning has been authorised. He will be buried with military honours on Tuesday.

"The government has authorised flags to fly at half-mast at army facilities," government spokesman Ricardo Lagos Weber said.


Sworn opponents and loyal supporters of the Gen Pinochet both took to the streets in numbers after hearing news of his death.

There was a carnival atmosphere in the centre of Santiago, reports said, as cheering opponents waved flags and sang celebratory songs.

But clashes broke out when a group of about 1,000 people tried to head towards the city's presidential palace.

Police fired water cannon and tear gas, and a string of fires could be seen along one of Santiago's main avenues.

At the city's military hospital, thousands more gathered to mourn the man they saw as having saved Chile from Marxism.

"It is very sad, because it is as if we were left orphans," one mourner, Maria Santibanez, told the AFP news agency.

Many of the crowd clutched pictures of Gen Pinochet, and planned to continue their vigil at the military academy where his body is to be kept until Tuesday's funeral.

'Loved by many'

Earlier, Santiago's military hospital said Gen Pinochet passed away at 1415 local time (1715GMT) following "grave and unexpected setbacks".

"He died surrounded by his family," Dr Vergara said.

After last week's acute heart attack, the general underwent a procedure to unblock an artery, and received the last rites from a Catholic priest.

But in the days afterwards his condition had been thought to be improving.

Opponents have expressed anger that Gen Pinochet died without justice being done over the charges brought against him.

"What saddens me is that this criminal has died without having been sentenced and I believe the responsibility the state bears in this has to be considered", human rights lawyer Hugo Gutierrez told the Chilean newspaper La Tercera Online.

Despite his human rights record, many Chileans loved him and said he saved the country from Marxism.

But many loyal supporters abandoned him after it became clear in 2004 that he had stolen about $27m in secret offshore bank accounts, the BBC's Daniel Schweimler says.

Those accounts were under investigation at the time of his death.

There were also allegations that Gen Pinochet and his son Marco Antonio Pinochet made money from cocaine smuggling, charges which the family denied.

'Political responsibility'

In September 1973, Gen Pinochet led the armed forces in a dramatic coup against the democratically elected Marxist government of Salvador Allende.

The violence of the uprising and the oppression that followed shook the world. He went on to become one of Latin America's best-known military rulers of the 1970s and 80s.

Earlier in November, Gen Pinochet was placed under house arrest over the abduction of two people in 1973.

The charges - the latest in a series - related to the Caravan of Death, a military operation to remove opponents of his rule.

In a statement read by his wife on his 91st birthday, Gen Pinochet said he accepted "political responsibility" for acts committed during his rule.

"Today, close to the end of my days, I want to make clear that I hold no rancour towards anybody, that I love my country above all else," his statement said.

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