Monday, December 18, 2006

Hecklers, admirers bid farewell to Pinochet


Hecklers, admirers bid farewell to Pinochet

POSTED: 12:38 p.m. EST, December 12, 2006

Story Highlights

Hecklers outside Augusto Pinochet funeral drown out choir
• 3,000 friends, relatives, military officers pack college courtyard for funeral mass
• Former Chilean dictator denied full state funeral
• Body to be cremated Tuesday, reportedly in town near Pinochet's birthplace
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SANTIAGO, Chile (Reuters) -- Hecklers angry at the government shouted over the sound of choirs Tuesday at the funeral of Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator whose repressive rule from 1973 to 1990 made him infamous around the world for human rights abuses.

Some 3,000 relatives, friends and top Chilean military officers packed a courtyard in the grounds of a military college in Santiago to pay their respects to a man who continues to polarize Chilean public opinion, even in death.

The center-left government denied Pinochet, who died Sunday at age 91, the full state funeral usually reserved for former presidents, angering Pinochet supporters who view him as having saved the country from communism and chaos. (Watch rising smoke and raging fires as police clash with demonstrators Video)

President Michelle Bachelet, who was tortured during Pinochet's rule, did not attend, and when her representative, Defense Minister Vivianne Blanlot, arrived, she was heckled and whistled at by mourners.

As the protests drowned out the noise of the funeral choir, the priest conducting the ceremony appealed for calm.

Pinochet's eldest daughter, Lucia Pinochet, praised her father for lighting "a flame of freedom" in September 1973, when he overthrew the democratically-elected socialist government of President Salvador Allende in a coup.

The military said that up to 60,000 people had flocked to the college for the public viewing of Pinochet's casket.

The general's youngest son, Marco Antonio Pinochet, has said denying his father a state funeral was petty and the government was "incapable of taking a noble stance at this moment in history."

Bachelet has said it would be an affront to many Chileans to conduct a state funeral for a man who seized power by force, led a repressive regime and was under investigation for murder, torture and fraud when he died.

Pinochet's forces killed around 3,000 opponents and suspected opponents of the government during his rule. Scores of military police officers also died in the political violence.

Some 28,000 people were tortured by Pinochet's secret police and hundreds of thousands of Chileans fled into exile.

Pinochet's supporters say his rule saved the country from communism, chaos and possible civil war, and point to his free-market reforms as having laid the way for Chile's current stability. (Watch why Pinochet's rise to power was both notorious and welcomed Video)

At his funeral, many mourners applauded as Pinochet's coffin, topped with a Chilean flag, was carried into the courtyard in bright sunshine by eight pall-bearers in blue military uniform.

Opponents of Pinochet marked the funeral by gathering outside the presidential palace in central Santiago, which was bombed from the air during the 1973 coup and where Allende, under siege, committed suicide.

A statue of Allende, a socialist who was backed by the Soviet Union and Fidel Castro's Cuba and whose government had enacted radical farm reforms in the previous three years, stands on the spot now.

"(His death) is a relief," said Marisol Salazar, a 48-year-old woman who said her father was one of the "disappeared" for which Chile became notorious under Pinochet.

"He was never brought to justice, but God will judge him."

By mid-morning on Tuesday, police had arrested 39 people involved in demonstrations or protests following Pinochet's death, Interior Ministry under-secretary Felipe Harboe said.

The most serious incidents were on Sunday night, when police fired tear gas to disperse protesters.

Pinochet's body was due to be taken later to an undisclosed destination, where it will be cremated. His son has said the family fears Pinochet's enemies would vandalize his grave if he were buried.

Local media said the cremation would take place in Concon, near Valparaiso where Pinochet was born on November 25, 1915.

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Saludos cordiales
Renato Sánchez 3586 dep 10
Santiago, Chile