lundi, décembre 11, 2006

Pinochet at last dead

Protests, parties after Pinochet's death.

By Gideon Long

Reuters Photo: Demonstrators yell slogans against former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in downtown Santiago, December 10, 2006

SANTIAGO, Chile (Reuters)

The body of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, whose government killed thousands during his 17-year-rule, was taken to a military college in the capital Santiago on Monday after his death sparked violence, tears and celebration.

Pinochet, who polarized Chile during his 1973-1990 dictatorship and spent his old age fighting human rights, fraud and corruption charges, died on Sunday.

He suffered a heart attack a week ago and, just when he appeared to be recovering, his health suddenly deteriorated, doctors said.

News of his death prompted an outpouring of emotion in Chile where, a third of a century after he swept to power, Pinochet's legacy is still hotly disputed.

More than 5,000 people took to the streets, the Interior Ministry said. Some mourned a man who they say saved Chile from communism while others reveled in the death of South America's most notorious Cold War dictator.

Some demonstrations turned violent, and military police used tear gas to disperse anti-Pinochet protesters who tried to march to the presidential palace, a potent symbol for many Chileans since it was bombed during the 1973 coup which brought the general to power.

After the protests ended on Sunday, police said 24 officers were injured, and the interior ministry said several protesters were arrested. Bonfires burned on the capital streets, some of which were littered with rocks, barricades and debris.

"I would like to issue a call tonight for families to take responsibility for their youths, for their children, so that they don't go out to demonstrate and don't get involved in acts of violence," Interior Ministry under-secretary Felipe Harboe said in a statement.

At around 1:00 am (0400 GMT), Pinochet's body was driven from the hospital where he died to the military college in preparation for his funeral on Tuesday.


The government, led by President Michelle Bachelet, a survivor of Pinochet's torture chambers, said there will be no official mourning and the former dictator will be given a military but not a full state funeral.

Outside the college, around 600 Pinochet supporters paid their respects as the body was driven past in a gray van with blacked out windows. Many waved red, white and blue Chilean flags and sang the national anthem.

More than 3,000 people died in political violence under Pinochet's rule. Some 28,000 people were tortured in secret detention centers and hundreds of thousands of Chileans went into exile, many never to return.

Pinochet was accused of dozens of human rights violations -- and more recently of tax fraud and embezzlement related to $27 million stashed in foreign bank accounts.

But he was never brought to trial before his death, as his defense lawyers argued he was too ill to face charges.

(Additional reporting by Manuel Farias, Monica Vargas, Rodrigo Martinez, Antonio de la Jara and Pav Jordan)