Violence erupts in Santiago streets after Pinochet's death

Supporters and opponents of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the dictator who ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990, took to the streets in Santiago Sunday following news of his death.

Supporters and opponents of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the dictator who ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990, took to the streets in Santiago Sunday following news of his death.

Violent clashes broke out between police and Pinochet opponents who threw rocks at cars and set up fire barricades on the capital's main avenue.

Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd. Authoritiesreported a number of arrests, but there were no details of injuries.

Pinochet, who spent his old age fighting human rights and corruption charges, died with his family at his side at the Santiago Military Hospital on Sunday, a week after suffering a heart attack.

"He died surrounded by his family," Dr. Juan Ignacio Vergara told reporters outside the hospital, adding that more details would be provided later in the day.

After the heart attack, doctors performed an angioplasty, in which a catheter is introduced into a clogged artery to enlarge it and allow restoration of blood flow to the heart.

On Friday, Pinochet was moved from the intensive care unit to an intermediate care room and the hospital described his recovery as "satisfactory."

Pinochet supportersgathered outside the hospital Sunday, weeping and trading insults with people in passing cars. Some shouted "Long Live Pinochet!" and sang Chile's national anthem.

"He will live forever in my memory— I love him as much as my own children," said Margarita Sanchez outside the hospital where Pinochet died.

Some celebrated

Hundreds of anti-Pinochet demonstratorscheered, waved flags as they crowded a major plaza in the capital, drinking champagne and tossing confetti.
Chilean police use a water cannon against opponents of former dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet during clashes in downtown Santiago, Chile on Sunday. ((Jorge Sanchez/Associated Press))

"Death seals Pinochet's impunity," said Venezuelan Vice-President Jose Vicente Rangel, who had been a friend of Salvador Allende, the democratically elected Chilean president who died in the 1973 coup that brought Pinochet to power.

"Pinochet has died, and I don't think he's going to heaven," British human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson told BBC television. "His death does rob us of a proper trial and retribution for his victims."

Pinochet was the head of the army when, supported by the United States, he led a violent coup to oust the elected socialist government of President Salvador Allende.

In the decades that Pinochet ran the country, until he resigned in 1990, about 35,000 Chileans suffered confirmed cases of torture. More than 3,000 disappeared, apparent victims of politically motivated executions, and hundreds of thousands fled into exile.

Pinochet was accused of dozens of human rights violations, spending his final days frail and under house arrest in a Santiago suburb. In 1998, he began to face the first in a series of legal battles over the allegations but was never brought to trial because of his poor physical and mental health.
Augusto Pinochet is seen in a 1997 photo at left, and one taken on Sept. 21, 1973, 12 days after he seized power from President Salvador Allende. ((Associated Press))

ASpanish judge ordered Pinochet's extradition in 1998 on the grounds that some of the people killed by his regime were Spaniards.

But Pinochet was also supported by many Chileans who praised hisanti-communist stanceand credited him for saving their country from Marxism.

He alsoimplemented free-marketreforms that at first triggered a financial collapse and unprecedented joblessness. But it laid the basis for South America's healthiest economy, which has grown by five per cent to seven per cent a year since 1984.

But many of his longstanding allies abandoned him in 2004 when allegations emerged in 2004 saying he had stashed about $27 million in secret bank accounts.

'Most difficult periods'

"Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship in Chile represented one of most difficult periods in that nation's history," said Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman. "Our thoughts today are with the victims of his reign and their families."

While some former U.S. presidents quietly supported Pinochet, the current administration has good ties with Chile's free-market Socialist President Michelle Bachelet, whose father— a Pinochet opponent— died after being tortured in prison.

The London-based human rights group Amnesty International said Pinochet's death "should be a wake-up call for the authorities in Chile and governments everywhere, reminding them of the importance of speedy justice for human rights crimes, something Pinochet himself has now escaped."

In November, Pinochet said for the first time that he took "full political responsibility" for acts committed by his 17-year regime.

But according to his oldest daughter, quoted last week a few days after he was rushed to hospital, her father would not apologize or ask for forgiveness.

With files from the Associated Press